Thursday, December 8, 2016

Joachim Løvschall at 46: Remembering one of Castro's victims

Joachim Løvschall was born 46 years ago today but he did not live to see his 27th birthday. Joachim, a Danish student studying Spanish at the University of Havana was gunned down by an AK-47 wielding Cuban guard as he walked home on the evening of March 29,1997. The body remained hidden for days. The shooter was never identified. Ten years after his son's extrajudicial execution, Christian Løvschall spoke at a parallel forum at the UN Human Rights Council about what had happened. Below is the statement he made in 2007 at the United Nations.

Joachim Løvschall (1970 - 1997)

 The Case of Joachim

Ladies and Gentlemen.

First of all thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you at this meeting here today, where I shall be talking to you about the terrible loss of our son Joachim on the 29th of March 1997, when you have listened to what I have to say I trust you will realize that 1997 will always stay as an "Annus Horibili" in the mind of our family.

To give you an understanding of our feelings and also of what made Joachim travel to Cuba, I will, as a start tell you something about the background of my boy and family.

 We are a quite international oriented family, my wife being a Norwegian national, the children and myself Danish. Our youngest daughter, however, is adopted from India, and joined us in 1978 when she was 3 years old. For about 8 years, in the eighties, we lived in the Middle East, where the children attended international schools. Before going abroad, my wife was for 12 years employed by a traveling agency, which resulted in numerous tours, also for the children, to destinations all over Europe. Furthermore we have hosted 2 international students - Each for a 1/2 a year period - in 1972 and 1974. In my present job I have for the last 17 years been traveling to more than 70 countries all over the world, having thereby established good contacts and, must I say, good friendships. Fortunately the friendships do not exclude anybody because of racial or political differences. On top of this our oldest daughter and two grandchildren are working and living in Norway.

And why do I want to enlighten you on this? My reason is that I want you to understand that Joachim was very much focused on international human relations and enjoyed making friendships across borders. You should know that he spoke seven different languages, and that the purpose of him going to Cuba was to learn the Spanish language. He did so well that he learned that language.

 In 3 months moving from no knowledge to almost speaking Spanish fluently and, as mentioned, all picked up during the 3 months he lived in Havana.

Although the killing took place on the 29th of March, we only came to know about it on the 6th of April - I.E. after 8 days were we had the feeling that the Cuban authorities were unwilling to inform anything about the incident. Only because of good relations with Spanish speaking friends in other Latin American countries did we succeed in getting into contact with the family with whom Joachim stayed and the repeated message from their side was that they could reveal nothing, but that the situation had turned out very bad and that we had to come to Cuba as soon as possible. At the same time all contacts to the responsible authorities turned out negatively, and worst of all we really felt nobody in Havana dared take contact to the police.

Only after continued pressure from our side on the Cuban embassy in Copenhagen, things suddenly changed and the sad information was given to us by our local police on the evening of the 6th of April.

We are, however, 100% convinced that had we not made use of our own contact and had we not continued our pressure on the embassy in Copenhagen, we might have faced a situation where Joachim would have been declared a missing person, a way out the Cuban authorities have been accused of applying in similar cases.

 So where does that leave us:

 We do feel we were (and still are) left with no answers except to maybe one of the following questions: Where, When, Who, Why

Starting out with the where we were told that Joachim was killed by the soldiers outside the Ministry of Interior.

What we do not understand is why no fence or signs did inform that this is a restricted area? I have been on the spot myself, and the place appears exactly like a normal residential area. So you may question whether this in fact was the place of the killing? Contrary to this the authorities keep maintaining that the area was properly sealed off, and the relevant sign posts were in place.

As to when Joachim was killed we only have the information received from the police because of the delay informing one might believe that this is another forgery made up to cover the truth.

The who was in our opinion has never been answered by the Cuban authorities. We understand that a private soldier on duty was made responsible for the killing, and also it has been rumored that his officer in charge has been kept responsible. This is of course the easy way out, but why can't we get to know the whole and true story? 

 Finally the why? Why would somebody kill a fine young man who was serious about his studies and without absolutely and criminal record whatsoever?

Why is it that you are left with the terrible feeling that the truth has never been told, and why is it that the authorities are backing out and covering up?

Why did the soldiers have to fire two shots, one to his body and one to his head, to murder him? Was Joachim violent and did he, an unarmed individual, attack the armed soldiers? Or is it simply that the instruction to Cuban soldiers are: first you shoot and then you ask? But again: Who can explain why two shots were needed?

It is very difficult to understand that in a country working hard to attract tourists from abroad - many of whom are European non-Spanish speaking people - At the same time does not warn you about their special security rules and regulations as well as the non presence of signs of warnings around a building like the Ministry of Interior. I mean if, as a host, I allow somebody into my house, is it then not my responsibility to inform this somebody about the house rules and in case of misunderstandings warn them instead of shooting them?

To me such circumstances demonstrates the complete irresponsibility from the Cuban authorities side, and for sure may cause the reason for future incidents.

We lost our 27 years old boy, and whatever is done from the day he passed away, will never bring him back.

I have been raised in the faith that you are judged by your actions, and I do feel that this should apply to everybody - including a government in power, and you can't help being left with the feeling, that in Cuba the government and the authorities are above any law, resulting in disrespect and contempt for human life.

 I did visit Cuba twice, and from my observations I can only add that I do feel sorry for a people living their lives under a regime not respecting fundamental human rights.

All honor to my son, Joachim, he was a good son and we still miss him very much.

Thank you for listening to me.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

UN Human Rights Council's moment of silence for Fidel Castro

"...[T]here arises a question as to whether those large, serious compromises do not have their origin and roots in precisely these tiny and very often more or less logical compromises." - Vaclav Havel, October 12, 2009, Forum 2000 conference

Photo taken by Cuban Mission to the UN during moment of silence for Castro
Six months ago I wrote a blog post on the existential crisis at the United Nations Human Rights Council that began from the start. "Ten years ago the United Nations Human Rights Council was founded on a small moral compromise that sacrificed human rights oversight in Belarus and Cuba in what U.N. officials called the dawn of a new era. Special rapporteurs with mandates to specifically monitor the human rights situation in those two countries were formally gotten rid of in 2007 and a code of conduct established that undermined the independence of all special rapporteurs."

Reflecting deeper on this crisis came to the conclusion that at the heart of the deteriorating global human rights situation that has gripped humanity for more than a decade is worse than we thought because it goes beyond geopolitical circumstance and to first principles on the nature of human rights that those in positions of power have rejected. Yesterday another manifestation of this crisis manifested itself in a matter of small procedural importance but of profound moral consequences.

On December 5, 2016 delegates of the U.N. Human Rights Council opened a meeting in Geneva by standing silently after Venezuela’s delegation requested a minute of silence to “honor” the late Cuban tyrant Fidel Castro. Meanwhile now in Cuba those Cubans that refuse to mourn the dead dictator are being beaten down, jailed and threatened with 15 year prison terms for speaking out. At least 20 cases have been documented and two high profile examples stand out: the graffiti artist and the medical doctor both jailed for freely expressing themselves: Danilo Maldonado and Eduardo Cardet.

Let us recall that Fidel Castro, the Cuban tyrant, presided over extrajudicial executions 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

Even more outrageous is that while the human rights body honors one of the great human rights violators of the Americas at the same time it ignores a human rights champion who passed away four days later the great nonviolent democrat and human rights defender Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez, former president of Costa Rica and one of the drafters of that great democracy's constitution.

Cuban Americans went out into the streets of Miami to celebrate the departure of Fidel Castro because he was a man who had done much evil and was still capable, while lucid, to do more.

However those who do good in the world like Vaclav Havel and  Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez are sorely missed and we mourn for their absence because we need more human beings like them that lift up humanity defending human dignity while speaking truth to power.

It is a real shame to see that at the heart of what should be the most important human rights body on the planet this simple lesson has been lost due to political expediency and an apparent bankruptcy of fundamental values.

Let us hope that the world's democrats in that august body request a moment of silence for the victims of Castroism and perhaps a candlelight vigil should be held outside of the UNHRC with photos of the many victims of the Cuban dictatorship as was done on Sunday in Washington, DC.

They could also hold a moment of silence for Costa Rica's Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez
and honor a moral exemplar instead of a dictator who collaborated with war criminals in genocide.

Honoring the memory of a brutal and genocidal dictator diminishes the moral authority of the UN Human Rights Council and in that it only benefits the brutal and genocidal regimes around the world leaving the victims ever more at their mercy. 

Requiescat in pace Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez, former president of Costa Rica and friend of free Cubans

Remembering a departed President who co- founded a just and enduring free order in Costa Rica

Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez (December 29, 1925 – November 29, 2016)

Friends of freedom lost a great ally on November 29, 2016 when Luis Alberto MongeÁlvarez passed away he was ninety years old.  At the age of 23, President Monge was the youngest member of the National Constituent Assembly of 1949. He was twice legislator for the PLN (1958-1962 and 1970-1974) and was president of the Legislative Assembly. He was President of Costa Rica for just four years between 1982 and 1986. The current President of Costa Rica declared three days of national mourning on his passing.

President Luis Alberto Monge (Center) surrounded by other former presidents
For Cubans he was a friend of freedom who assisted Cubans resisting tyranny first against Fulgencio Batista and later against Fidel Castro.  In 2004 he was a founding member of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba. Four years later at a gathering of this committee in Costa Rica he spoke clearly in a manner that sadly to many heads of state fail to do today. The following is a cable made public by wikileaks describing this meeting:
Costa Rica continues to be one of the region's leading critics of the Castro government and a strong advocate for democratic change and human rights reforms in Cuba. For instance, on May 20, 2008, the Costa Rican Committee for Solidarity with Democracy in Cuba and the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba hosted a forum on Cuba. Participants included a former ex-president of Costa Rica, a current Costa Rican deputy, an ex-deputy, a Czech diplomat in Costa Rica, and a former Cuban political prisoner. The May 20, 2008 forum highlighted Costa Rica's commitment to freedom and democracy and its criticism of Cuba's abysmal record on human rights. Luis Alberto Monge Alvarez, President of Costa Rica from 1982 to 1986 and a member of President Arias' National Liberation Party (PLN), spoke of "communist occupation" in Cuba. He referred to the "communist dictatorship" of the Castro regime while expressing Costa Rica's solidarity with the Cuban people.
Incidentally Costa Rica has a 96.3% literacy rate, has an excellent universal healthcare system, and a thriving democracy that respects fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. This is no small part due to President Luis Alberto Monge's life time of work and leadership in Costa Rica. He was a politician who practiced what he preached with honesty and transparency and in the process became an elder statesman of Costa Rica.

President Luis Alberto Monge on the right protesting for the freedom of Lech Walesa

Monday, December 5, 2016

Victims of Castroism remembered on Sunday in Miami and Washington DC

Remembering the victims of communism in Cuba on day Castro laid to rest

Last night I had the honor of taking part in a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the victims of Fidel Castro in Cuba organized by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. At the vigil were posters with the images of Laura PollánOswaldo Payá and Mario de la Peña. Present among the participants was Basilio Guzman, a former political prisoner who served 22 years in Castro's prisons.

In Miami and Washington DC people of goodwill gathered to remember the victims of Castroism in Cuba. While many in the media observed the end of the funeral procession for Fidel Castro, without providing historical context, others did provide that necessary analysis.

Posters of  Laura Pollán, Mario de la Peña and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas
Sadly the need for such acts of remembrance by victims of Castroism became painfully evident when the French Environment Minister Segolence Royal representing France at a tribute to Fidel Castro in Santiago, Cuba engaged in the denial of human rights violations in Cuba claiming that there is "religious freedom" and "freedom of conscience."

Minister Royal's claims of "religious freedom" in Cuba comes amidst a report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide that documents 1,606 separate freedom of religion or belief violations between January and July 2016 in Cuba. This marks a worsening of religious repression in Cuba.

Worse yet is her claim of "freedom of conscience" at the very moment that Cubans are being brutally beaten up, arrested, and threatened with 15 year prison terms for expressing their criticism of Fidel Castro's legacy or for just not being mournful enough. Between January and November of 2016 there have been at least 9,125 politically motivated arbitrary detentions in Cuba.

Remembering Oswaldo and other victims of repression
Castroism is a tropical version of Stalinism and has a lot more in common with the regime in North Korea then democratic France. The Castro regime broadcast its mass executions at the start of the dictatorship in 1959 and continued the firing squads until at least 2003. There have also been extrajudicial killings of nonviolent opposition figures such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero in 2012. Nonviolent dissidents like Sirley Ávila León in 2015 have been targets of brutal machete attacks in order to silence them.

The death of Fidel Castro was an exercise in symbolism over substance the despite all its efforts the dictatorship failed to pull off when the jeep carrying Castro's remains broke down during the funeral procession and had to be physically pushed by soldiers. It is a fitting metaphor for this failed dictatorship that generated so much terror and harm in Cuba and around the world but failed in providing Cubans with basic services.

Washington DC vigil for victims of communism in Cuba 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Castro's departure in Cuba reminiscent of Russia's Stalin and North Korea's Kim il Jong

Castroism like its North Korean counterpart is Stalinism light
Josef Stalin (1953)        Kim il Jong (2011)       Fidel Castro (2016)
Cuba under the Castro brothers is not only a communist dictatorship that systematically violates human rights, threatens world peace but Castroism also maintains its Stalinist characteristic regarding the death of a tyrant. Those who are not actively mourning the dictator's death are being subjected to violent beatings, arrests and the threats of lengthy prison terms.

Crowds passing by in tears for Fidel Castro today as other crowds in the same manner paid their respects to Soviet tyrant Josef Stalin in 1953 and Kim il Jong in North Korea in 2011. These are examples of how totalitarianism operates and is still present in the world today with both North Korea and Cuba being high profile examples.

In 2012 reports appeared that North Koreans who did not mourn sufficiently the passing of the great leader were sent to forced labor camps. Today in Cuba reports arrive of a Cuban medical doctor and dissident, Eduardo Cardet, badly beaten and jailed by secret police for speaking critically of Fidel Castro and he has been threatened with a 15 year prison sentence. Other cases are emerging but one must also recall that in Cuba there is no free press and this type of news is difficult to come by.