Thursday, October 19, 2017

Human rights and academic freedom under the new regime at the University of Miami's Cuba programs

Worse than it first appears

Taking a closer look at the special report titled "Cuba and the Caribbean" prepared by UM News, a part of University Communications at the University of Miami and some observations arise that undermine the claims made by UM political science assistant professor Michael Touchton that there is "so much superior work that could be done if we team up with Cuban academics." Without academic freedom and the knowledge that careers can end and doors can be closed by raising certain issue, central to them are human rights and civil liberties in the area of political science scholarship is effectively neutered. Now associate professor and department chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Lillian Manzor, is right when she says that “engagement with other countries has proven to be better than isolationist tactics,” but Cuba like North Korea is not just "another country."

This can be seen in the UM special report itself where there are no references by UM faculty to human rights with regards to Cuba and the only Cubans in prison talked about are innocent migrants in U.S. prisons.  . Miami Law’s Immigration Clinic Director Rebecca Sharpless and Professor David Abraham address the changes to migration within the narrative of  normalized relations and putting the Cold War past behind us.
Rebecca Sharpless: We are seeing Cuban immigrants detained in county jails for the first time ever—Cubans with no criminal history who would be eligible for the Cuban Adjustment Act. I think the new normal is that Cubans and non-Cubans will be treated the same way, which is not well, even with respect to people fleeing persecution or extreme poverty.

David Abraham: The future of Cuban-American relations, particularly regarding immigration, seems very much up in the air. The longtime special quality of Cuban migration, hung on anti-Communism, is behind us. The Cuban Adjustment Act is behind us. Just as Cuba becomes an ordinary foreign country, the entire immigration regime in the U.S. is in question, and we may be operating in an entirely new environment.
For the past 50 years, we've been operating like the Cubans get a free pass because any Cuban who touches American soil was a year away from permanent residency unless they committed a felony, whereas every Haitian was headed to detention and deportation. One was fleeing a failed state and a bad economy, and the other was a victim of a Communist monster. I find it ironic that they are now simply in the same lousy situation.
First, I found it interesting that no mention was made of President Obama gutting the Cuban Adjustment Act or the fact that the "Communist monster" continues to destroy lives and murder Cubans on the island for thinking differently in the article "On the Frontlines of Immigration." The only direct reference made to human rights referred to Haiti but none concerning Cuba.

Second and more disturbing are the comments by Kenneth W. Goodman, professor and director of the UM Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy, and co-director of the University of Miami Ethics Programs. He claims that Cuba is changing in a positive direction. In the article "A Hemispheric Approach to Bioethics and Health Policy" the claim is made that  "[w]hile Cuban scholars do not yet enjoy academic freedom of speech or press, that is reported to be changing, he added, noting that Cuban scientists and clinicians want to be “participants on the global stage.” In keeping with that objective, Cuba’s researchers appear to follow international standards of informed consent and patient privacy when conducting clinical studies." Professor Goodman should talk with Felix Llerena who visited the University of Miami to take part in a human rights workshop and was expelled from his university when he returned to Cuba earlier this year. There have been others. Professors have also been fired for their political beliefs or merely having a dissident in the family.

Many other universities have academic exchanges with Cuba and self censorship is part of the game of continuing the programs running and scholarship suffers. This practice of self-censorship to maintain access has been seen and reported on explicitly with regards to foreign journalists based in Cuba

The only bright spot in this dreary affair is the interview with Yoani Sanchez that addresses some of the realities on the ground in Cuba. One can agree or disagree with her policy prescription, but her journalism is spot on.

With regards to healthcare in Cuba one should review the case of Sirley Avila Leon carefully that shines a light on what happens when the dictatorship tells doctors not to treat gravely injured patients.

On the subject of academic exchanges the University of Miami would do well to study what happened to Florida International University's academic exchange program when Carlos Alvarez, one of the leaders of that initiative was arrested by the FBI, along with his wife, for being a spy.

Cuba is a unique country in the Western Hemisphere because for the past 58 years it has had more in common with far away North Korea than its neighbors. It is a communist, totalitarian dictatorship with a very dark past and it continues to write new chapters in a terrible history that those engaging with the regime will refuse to do out of a fear of losing access and having their programs shut down. Hence why human rights, academic freedom and labor rights are at the margins, if mentioned at all. Sadly this special report by the University of Miami confirms it.

Following controversy UM postpones event but the drive for engagement with the Castro regime continues.

UM's drive to engage with the Castro dictatorship continues.

The University of Miami has been under a cloud of controversy following the announcement that the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS) would be closed, then back tracked that it would remain open, with a new director. Furthermore that the founding director Professor Jaime Suchlicki had not retired but resigned in protest over the direction Cuba Studies was taking under the new UM President Julio Frenk.

As the weeks went by the claims made by Professor Suchlicki's about the University of Miami going in a different direction that requires placating the dictatorship in Cuba became more evident. The University of Miami has now produced a special report titled "Cuba and the Caribbean" that has a clear editorial line, including a slanted poll that makes little or no mention of human rights or dissidents.

Screen grab from A University of Miami Special Report

ICCAS had a track record of serious scholarship that debunked Castro regime propaganda and opened its doors to Cuban dissidents from the island. This included important studies and books on the nature of health care and education in Cuba that no doubt irritated the Cuban dictatorship. The shuttering of ICCAS and replacement of the entire faculty of the the institute is troubling and an assault on academic freedom, but makes sense if the priority is having a relationship with the communist regime in Cuba that does not tolerate critical academic inquiry. Dr. Suchlicki resigned from the University of Miami but continues his highly respected academic inquiry into Cuba at the new Cuban Studies Institute, along with Jose Azel and Pedro Roig, who were also forced out of ICCAS despite their academic credentials and numerous publications. Dr. Jose Azel had been the Senior Research Associate and Pedro Roig, the Senior Consultant at ICCAS.

One would hope that a university would challenge communist propaganda in an academic setting with an exchange of differing views with the goal of getting at the existing reality. Unfortunately what had been planned at the Department of Public Health Science at the University of Miami was a one sided presentation by Professor Roberto C. Villafranca, MD, MS, PhD of the University of Medical Sciences in Matanzas, Cuba. The flier reproduced below is an uncritical repetition of Castro government propaganda. There is plenty of evidence that the Cuban Public Health System has serious problems that are not reported in the official statistics provided.

Roberto Cañete Villafranca is a visiting scholar at the University of Miami
Katherine Hirschfeld, an anthropologist, in Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898 who spent time in Cuba studying its healthcare system, contracted dengue while there, experiencing first hand the 'discrepancies between rhetoric and reality,' She found a repressive, bureaucratized and secretive system, long on 'militarization' and short on patients' rights.  Professor Hirschfeld had spoken at the old ICCAS.  One wonders if she would be invited to speak at the new ICCAS?

Professor Sherri L. Porcelain who has taught Global Public Health in World Affairs at the University of Miami for more than 30 years wrote an important analysis titled U.S. & Cuba: A Question of Indifference? I could not find this article on the ICCAS web site but found it instead at Professor Suchlicki's Cuba Studies Institute and what it reveals is disturbing.
"Investment in the health of people includes protecting human rights. This means allowing the health community to speak out and not to be jailed for releasing information about a dengue epidemic considered a state secret, or not sharing timely data on a cholera outbreak until laboratory confirmation of travelers returning from Cuba arrive home with a surprising diagnosis. This causes me to reflect upon my personal interviews where the remaining vigor of public health actions in Cuba exists to fight vector and water borne diseases. Sadly, however, health professionals are directed to euphemistically use the vague terms of febrile illness in place of dengue and gastrointestinal upset for cholera, in contradiction to promoting public health transparency."

 This led to cries that the agreement reached with Julio Frenk that the University of Miami did not want to set up academic exchanges that would legitimize the Castro dictatorship was not being fulfilled. On October 17, 2017 after requesting the day before what steps would be needed to attend the event on the 18th the following message was received from one of the organizers of the event:
"Thank you for your interest in attending the Department of Public Health Sciences’ Grand Rounds on the Cuban Public Health System. As you might have heard, this event has been postponed till further notice. It was decided that for this topic, a different structure that incorporates presenters with different viewpoints on public health in Cuba will be more beneficial. We will announce through our usual channels once another date and time has been decided."
Meanwhile reviewing the section on Politics and Policy finds the "party line" of the new Administration being repeated in the article "A Renewed Tenuous Relationship" with statements such as Michael Touchton, a UM political science assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences: “[t]here is so much superior work that could be done if we team up with Cuban academics,” he says. “They don’t have the resources, but by combining our expertise we can do excellent work.” It is repeated once again by Lillian Manzor, associate professor and department chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at the College of Arts and Sciences who said: "I think the establishment of relations is long overdue,” she says. “Engagement with other countries has proven to be better than isolationist tactics.”

Equally disturbing is the article "A Trusted Ally for Leftists" on the negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC guerillas in Cuba. The article fails to even mention the explosion in cocaine production during these negotiations and makes the charge that the vote by Colombians to reject the peace agreement was based on "partial lies and misinformation" and "post-truth." Colombian voters understand that the FARC will use drug money to finance its entry into Colombian politics and attempt a Venezuelan style take over over the span of a few election cycles. This point of view is not reflected in this "special report" because dissenting points of view were purged from ICCAS back in August of 2017 and replaced by an Interim Director willing to adopt the new line from the University President that echoes those already mentioned above and are now found on the Institute's new website.

ICCAS, under Dr. Suchlicki, produced serious scholarship that not only embarrassed the Castro regime by debunking its propaganda but was also a challenge to other academic centers that study Cuba and are compromised by their need to satisfy the Castro regime's demands to be able to continue to have access to the island. Professor Suchlicki is the co-editor of the tenth edition of Cuban Communism. Reviewers of the 901 page tome say that it "has widely come to be known as 'the Bible of Cuban Studies.'" The distinguished periodical Foreign Affairs said of it: "There is no handier guide to the Castro regime and the debates swirling around it."

 Mike Gonzalez, currently a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation think tank, has written an important analysis of how foreign governments influence what Americans learn in college. The term "influence" is an understatement. He outlines how China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Cuba have successfully censored and propagandized what is taught at American colleges and universities.  The section of the article on Cuba described what is now taking place at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies:

Long a thorn in the side of the communist dictatorship in Havana, ICCAS has constantly received vituperative attacks by the regime’s propaganda outlets. Never before, however, has it come under the threat of the university’s own leadership. Frenk is a long-standing and well-known admirer of the Cuban regime’s health practices. As Mexico’s health secretary in 2001, he said Cuba had the best health indicators in Latin America, and Mexico would benefit from learning about Cuba’s success.
Unfortunately for Frenk, the ICCAS kept saying the truth about Cuba’s failed health system, as it did on July 20 in a report called “Cuba’s Silence is Dangerous to Your Health.” That report notes that “After a century hiatus, cholera, malaria and dengue have returned to Cuba.” I post the report here because it seems to have disappeared from the ICCAS website.
 Let me be clear. Believing in academic freedom I have no problem with Cuban "academics" speaking at the University of Miami or any other college. The word academics are in quotation marks because in a totalitarian communist dictatorship there is no academic freedom and academics are constrained by the demands of the dictatorship in what they can say and write and that needs to be taken into account.

However I do have a problem when dissenting voices are silenced or purged to satisfy the demands of a dictatorship for the sake of access or funding.  Incorporating presenters with different viewpoints in an academic setting to debunk propaganda and get to the facts is a positive step. Unfortunately, American academia seems to have been corrupted and the University of Miami that it in the past with ICCAS had been an oasis of academic excellence is eager to join the desert of accommodation with tyrants repeating the same lies in order to have a relationship with a totalitarian dictatorship. One can call that many things, but academic scholarship is not one of them.

Meanwhile I salute Professor Jaime Suchlicki for his truth telling and look forward to continue reading the work of the Cuban Studies Institute. I look forward to seeing who is finally selected as the new permanent director of the Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami and pray that he can fill the chasm left by Dr. Suchlicki.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Night Comes to Venezuela: Electoral Farce in Venezuela

"Support Venezuelan democratic institutions that must today work in exile. - Luis Almagro, General Secretariat of the OAS

Message from the Secretary General on Venezuela

October 16, 2017

Yesterday gubernatorial elections were held in Venezuela. We are not going to comment on the irregularities in the process, given that they repeat the same variables of illegality, uncertainty and fraud that we have been denouncing since our first communication to the president of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, in November 2015. We reiterate these same complaints regarding the election process for the National Constituent Assembly or the annulment of the recall referendum.

Today we would have liked to greet the winners and welcome the completion of a civic celebration. However, we have to express skepticism and denounce the lack of guarantees that take place over and over in elections held by dictatorships.

The General Secretariat of the OAS rejects all of these illegitimate acts carried out by illegitimate governments, and condemns in particular, once more, the abuses of the civil and political rights of the Venezuelan people by the regime.

The results of an election in a country with no guarantees for the effective exercise of democracy cannot be recognized. It is clear that any political force that agrees to go to an election without guarantees becomes an essential tool of the eventual fraud, and shows that it has no democratic reflexes to protect the rights of the people, in this case, the right to the vote.

This type of act is not new: it first happened when the recall referendum was annulled and it was repeated when the results of the July 16 consultation were not respected.

This is an important lesson for everyone, for the political leadership of Venezuela and for the international community.

These are the only kind of results we can expect – fraud and human rights violations – if the political strategy and acts distance themselves from democratic principles and values in favor of easy and circumstantial agreements.

No election in Venezuela will provide guarantees to voters unless it is carried out with qualified electoral observation – in particular by this Organization – that ensures a transparent and legal process.

In order to generate a democratic reconstruction in the country, the opposition political leadership must unite with the people and those few leaders who, in accordance with their principles, understood at all times that the citizens of Venezuela want freedoms and are not willing to follow the rules of the dictatorship.

We consider that it is no longer the time for resolutions or declarations, although we appreciate that the last ones made have been conclusive and reflect more accurately the agenda we proposed on May 30, 2015: general elections, freedom for all political prisoners, the separation of powers and respect for institutions, and the opening of a humanitarian channel.

The General Secretariat of the OAS, for its part, will continue along the lines of action that have been announced:

a) Continue the processes underway to determine the evidence for crimes against humanity by the authorities of the regime in Venezuela;
b) Promote and legitimize the application of sanctions against the Venezuelan regime; and
c) Support Venezuelan democratic institutions that must today work in exile.

Reference: S-031/17

Monday, October 16, 2017

President of the United States believes Castro is responsible for attacks on U.S. diplomats

Update on the sonic attacks that have harmed at least 22 Americans in Cuba 

The U.S. Embassy in Havana emptied of non-essential personnel
Today the President of the United States in a news conference in the White House Rose Garden said, "I do believe Cuba is responsible" for the health attacks on U.S. diplomats. The past week has been difficult for Castro regime apologists. The attempt to discount the "sonic attacks" as simply the overactive imagination of paranoid diplomats was blown out of the water when the Associated Press released the audio of the noise associated with the attacks on October 12, 2017. On the same day White House Chief of Staff John Kelly stated: "We believe that the Cuban government could stop the attacks on our diplomats."

The official timeline remains unknown, but news reporting indicates that beginning in November 2016 U.S. diplomats suffered injuries to their health following odd sounds being directed at them. The story did not go public until August 9, 2017 when CBS Radio was going to break the story leaked by angry victims, who believed that not enough had been done, and that the State Department was ignoring their suffering. This led to the question: did downplaying the attacks encourage more of them?  As days passed the number of diplomats impacted increased. The last attacks were apparently in August of 2017 according to news accounts.

The Castro regime, at first claiming ignorance, denied ever being involved in attacks on diplomats, then called it a case of mass hysteria.  This blog highlighted the Cuban dictatorship's prior record of targeting U.S. diplomats by Cuban state security agents who murdered their pets, replaced mouthwash with urine, and in 1996 endangered the life of Robin Myers trying to crash into her car repeatedly with other vehicles and nearly ran her off the road (the manner in which they began the attack that ended in the deaths of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero in 2012.)

On December 17, 2014 President Obama claimed that the previous policy was static and had not achieved anything, but his policy not only coincided with a rise in repression in Cuba, the deaths of high profile dissidents, but also this insidious attack on U.S. diplomats. The same day that the President announced the normalization of relations with the Castro regime this blog made the following observation:
One hopes that the mistakes made by the Bush Administration in taking North Korea off the list are not repeated with Cuba. The belief that removing North Korea from the terror sponsor list would improve its behavior did not manifest itself after the fact. Rewarding the hardline and rogue elements in the Castro regime is unlikely to improve the dictatorship's behavior to the contrary it may worsen.
Cuba was taken off the list of state sponsors of terrorism in May of 2015 and Obama paid an official visit to Cuba in March of 2016. In January of 2017 Cuban troops being reviewed by Raul Castro chanted how they would repeatedly shoot President Obama so many times in the head that they would make a lead hat. Meanwhile to date 22 American diplomats and or their dependents have been victims of sonic attacks that has caused hearing loss, brain trauma and brain swelling.

Without guarantees that the attacks will end the United States reduced U.S. embassy officials in Cuba by 60%  on September 29, 2017 and asked 15 Cuban diplomats to leave the United States on October 3, 2017 for the sake of parity.

This story is not going away.

Sonic attacks against U.S. diplomats in Cuba?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

NeverForget: Castro's misogynist regime killed nonviolent icon Laura Pollán 6 years ago

"Six years from the murder of Lady in White Laura Pollán, a regime of criminal male chauvinists is incompatible with the women of your lineage, it is condemned to fail." #LauraLives - Rosa María Payá

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, February 13, 1948 – October 14, 2011
Five years ago today Cuban opposition leader and human rights defender Laura Pollán  died under circumstances that Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet described as "death by purposeful medical neglect."

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, a courageous woman who spoke truth to power and protested in the streets of Cuba demanding an amnesty for Cuban political prisoners. She had been a school teacher, before her husband was jailed for his independent journalism in 2003. Laura was a figure greatly admired both inside and outside of Cuba.

However when one opposes the dictatorship in Cuba not only is their physical life in danger but their reputation is systematically slandered. The regime claimed that she was a stateless "traitor." She became ill and died within the space of a week under circumstances that raise the question of foul play by the Castro tyranny. Following her death the official media began a campaign asserting that she was a common criminal.

 Laura Pollán became a dissident when her husband was imprisoned during the Black Cuban Spring of 2003 along with more than 75 other activists and civil society members. She was one of the founders of the Ladies in White and challenged the Castro regime in the streets of Cuba. Following brutal repression, in an effort to prevent them from marching through the streets of Havana, Laura Pollan directly and nonviolently challenged the regime: "We will never give up our protest. The authorities have three options — free our husbands, imprison us or kill us. Unfortunately beginning in 2010 a new and deadlier pattern of oppression presented itself with the extrajudicial death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Today let us remember the words that Laura put into action and that was nonviolent resistance to tyranny.

"They tried to silence 75 voices, but now there are more than 75 voices shouting to the world the injustices the government has committed." (2004)
"We fight for the freedom of our husbands, the union of our families. We love our men." (2005)
"They can either kill us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens." (2010)

"We are going to continue. We are fighting for freedom and human rights.” (September 24, 2011)

"As long as this government is around there will be prisoners because while they've let some go, they've put others in jail. It is a never-ending story." (2011)

“If we must give our own lives in pursuit of the freedom of our Cuba that it be what God wants.” (September 24, 2011)

"We are not going to stop. If you have imprisoned our sisters thinking that we would give up, they are mistaken. We are very united (...) all the women's movements are very close." (October 2, 2011)
The regime in Cuba is the most misogynist government in all of Latin America. Women who speak out and exercise their fundamental rights are regularly slandered, physically assaulted and sometimes die under suspicious circumstances as Laura did six years ago today.