Friday, February 24, 2017

The February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shootdown remembered

Truth, memory, and justice for Carlos, Pablo, Mario, Armando and their loved ones.

Twenty one years ago today on a sunny Saturday afternoon over the Florida Straits three civilian planes of Brothers to the Rescue engaged in a search and rescue mission for fleeing refugees. At the same time they were being hunted by two Cuban MiGs and two of the planes were destroyed by air to air missiles on the Castro brothers orders killing four men: Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña and Armando Alejandre Jr.  The third plane was able to escape the fate of the other planes and the survivors bore witness to what had happened.

Later on it was learned that the Cuban dictatorship had planned this attack months in advance, with the aid of Cuban spies operating in South Florida and that this was an act of state terrorism. The families of the four men have waged a steadfast effort to obtain justice for their loved ones.

Source: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Report Nº 86/99 Case 11.589 Armando Alejandre Jr., Carlos Costa, Mario De La Peña, and Pablo Morales Cuba September 29, 1999

Thursday, February 23, 2017

7 years ago on February 23 after years tortured, Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on hunger strike

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it." - Martin Luther King Jr.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo
Human Rights Defender

May 15, 1967 - February 23, 2010
Cuban prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on February 23, 2010 after years of torture and a prolonged water only hunger strike in which prison authorities over the course of more than two weeks on and off refused him water
    Following his death the Castro regime and its agents of influence sought to slander Orlando's memory. However, activists who knew Orlando had already spoken on the record as had Amnesty International.
     For example, on the same day Orlando Zapata died, Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas in a heartfelt message explained the circumstances surrounding his untimely death: 

Orlando Zapata Tamayo, died on this afternoon, February 23, 2010, after suffering many indignities, racist slights, beatings and abuse by prison guards and State Security. Zapata was killed slowly over many days and many months in every prison in which he was confined. Zapata was imprisoned for denouncing human rights violations and for daring to speak openly of the Varela Project in Havana's Central Park. He was not a terrorist, or conspirator, or used violence. Initially he was sentenced to three years in prison, but after successive provocations and maneuvers staged by his executioners, he was sentenced to more than thirty years in prison.
     The slander campaign has failed because people of good will paid attention and refused to remain silent. In Canada, a punk rock band composed and played a song titled Orlando Zapata that placed his death in context. A video accompanying the song was edited by the Free Cuba Foundation. Orlando's death focused attention on Cuban prisoners of conscience and was a factor in their release between 2010 and early 2011.


Orlando Zapata Tamayo was born in Santiago, Cuba on May 15, 1967. He was by vocation a brick layer and also a human rights activist, a member of the Movimiento Alternativa Republicana, Alternative Republican Movement, and of the Consejo Nacional de Resistencia Cívica, National Civic Resistance Committee. Orlando gathered signatures for the Varela Project, a citizen initiative to amend the Cuban constitution using legal means with the aim of bringing Cuba in line with international human rights standards.

     Amnesty International had documented how Orlando had been arrested several times in the past. For example he was temporarily detained on 3 July 2002 and 28 October 2002. In November of 2002 after taking part in a workshop on human rights in the central Havana park, José Martí, he and eight other government opponents were arrested and later released. He was also arrested on December 6, 2002 along with fellow prisoners of conscience Oscar Elías Biscet and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo.  
     Dr. Biscet just released from prison a month earlier had sought to form a grassroots project for the promotion of human rights called "Friends of Human Rights." State security prevented them from entering the home of Raúl Arencibia Fajardo, Oscar Biscet, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Virgilio Marante Güelmes and 12 others held a sit-in in the street in protest and chanted "long live human rights" and "freedom for political prisoners." They were then arrested and taken to the Tenth Unit of the National Revolutionary Police, Décima Unidad de La Policía Nacional Revolucionaria (PNR), in Havana.
    Orlando Zapata Tamayo was released three months later on March 8, 2003, but Oscar Elias Biscet, Virgilio Marante Güelmes, and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo remained imprisoned. On the morning of March 20, 2003 whilst taking part in a fast at the Fundación Jesús Yánez Pelletier, Jesús Yánez Pelletier Foundation, in Havana, to demand the release of Oscar Biscet and the other political prisoners. Orlando was taken to the Villa Marista State Security Headquarters. 
     He was moved around several prisons, including Quivicán Prison, Guanajay Prison, and Combinado del Este Prison in Havana. Where according to Amnesty International on October 20, 2003 Orlando was dragged along the floor of Combinado del Este Prison by prison officials after requesting medical attention, leaving his back full of lacerations. Orlando managed to smuggle a letter out following a brutal beating it was published in April of 2004:
My dear brothers in the internal opposition in Cuba. I have many things to say to you, but I did not want to do it with paper and ink, because I hope to go to you one day when our country is free without the Castro dictatorship. Long live human rights, with my blood I wrote to you so that this be saved as evidence of the savagery we are subjected to...

    On May 18, 2004 Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Virgilio Marante Güelmes, and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo were each sentenced to three years in prison for contempt for authority, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in a one-day trial. Orlando Zapata Tamayo would continue his rebelliousness and his non-violent resistance posture while in prison and suffer numerous beatings and new charges of disobedience and disrespect leading to decades added to his prison sentence in eight additional trials.

The importance of remembrance
     Friends of freedom all too often are on the defensive explaining who and what they are against. The lives of courageous nonviolent activists such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Harold Cepero Escalante, Laura Inés Pollán Toledo and the four men murdered in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down who were martyred by the Castro dictatorship should be remembered and told to others. The enemies of freedom do not like to have such heroes remembered and honored.  For example on May 24, 2010 in Oslo, Norway a Cuban diplomat attacked and bit a 19 year old Cuban-Norwegian girl who was filming her mother's protest on behalf of Orlando Zapata Tamayo outside of the Cuban embassy. The whole episode was a public relations disaster for the Castro dictatorship in Norway.

Take action
     People of good will around the world who wish to remember can join in a 24-hour water-only fast starting at 3 p.m. on Feb. 23, the day and time that Orlando Zapata Tamayo died on hunger strike followed by a silent vigil the following day from 3:21 p.m. to 3:27 p.m. to correspond with the times Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña and Armando Alejandre Jr. were shot down on February 24th.

    Fasting for 24 hours is a limited way to step, albeit briefly and incompletely, into Orlando Zapata Tamayo's shoes. Beginning the fast at 3:00pm on February 23 and completing it on February 24 at 3:00pm just in time to honor and remember the four members of Brothers to the Rescue seems an appropriate way to pay homage. 
     They all demonstrated with the lives they led and by how they died that the Bible passage, John 15:13 is as relevant as ever: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." Please use all the means at your disposal through social media and word of mouth to let others know about them.
The price of indifference
     The failure of solidarity with Cubans in the island has led to the Castro regime not only increasing repression at home but also projecting itself elsewhere in the Americas and sadly now Venezuelans are also dying or being killed for defending freedom in their country.

#PayaPrize: Castro regime reveals its totalitarian and repressive nature before region's democrats

Our interest is to bring Cuba closer to Inter-American values and principles and expand its achievements in science, health and education. - Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the OAS

Award ceremony in Havana at 11:00am this morning
At 11:00am with her home surrounded by Cuban State Security and with the names of Mr. Luis Almagro and Ms Mariana Aylwin taped to two empty chairs Rosa Maria Payá and a small group of activists who had managed to evade the security cordon carried out the award ceremony. At the same time in Miami, Ofelia Acevedo and other Cuba Decides activists held a press conference to update what had been going on and she explained to The Miami Herald: “We have seen their level of intolerance, arrogance and contempt for others,” she said. “They feel attacked because other personalities in the world recognize not only the Oswaldo Payá award, but also because in Cuba there are people who think differently and have different alternatives.”

Ofelia Acevedo, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas's widow addresses the press
Earlier this morning Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States reported over social media that he had been denied entry to Cuba by the Castro regime's immigration authorities.
He was the third high ranking Latin American democrat to be blocked from entering Cuba in the past 72 hours. A day earlier on February 21, 2017 former Mexican president Felipe Calderón was also told he would not be able to enter Cuba and on the evening of  February 20, 2017 former minister and member of parliament Mariana Aylwin, who is also the daughter of the former Chilean president Patricio Aylwin was declared inadmissible by the Castro regime's immigration machinery. The past seventy two hours should have dispelled any notions that the Castro regime has changed.

Cuba under General Raul Castro remains a totalitarian communist state that only legally recognizes the communist party, one educational system that it controls, one centrally planned economy that it also controls, regime monopoly over all media, and a communist moral code. Independent grassroots organizations are illegal and critical thought is punished.

Hannah Arendt, the political scientist who wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism in a lecture on the profound difference between authoritarianism and totalitarianism 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 [is] the opposite of totalitarianism."

This is why a private award ceremony in Havana is turned into an international crisis because the totalitarian regime in Cuba refuses to tolerate international political figures recognizing dissidents, even if it is only to accept an award. Secretary General Almagro in a letter to Rosa Maria outlined the Castro regime's objections:
Last Thursday, OAS official Chris Hernandez-Roy was called to a meeting by the Consul of Cuba in Washington and the First Secretary of the Consulate during which the following was conveyed to him:
  1. The surprise of the Cuban authorities at the reason for the visit
  2. That they would not grant us the visa
  3. That our entry to Cuba would be denied, (even in the case of traveling with a Uruguayan diplomatic passport)
  4. Their “astonishment” at the involvement of the Secretary General of the OAS in anti-Cuban activities
  5. That the reason for which we requested the visa is considered “an unacceptable provocation”
  6. That the prize is not recognized by the Cuban state
  7. They characterized the activities of “Cuba Decides” as undermining the Cuban electoral system.
Presenting a human rights award named after a nonviolent Cuban activist is according to the Castro dictatorship an "anti-Cuban activity" furthermore that the prize "is not recognized by the Cuban state" and "an unacceptable provocation." Finally the "Cuba Decides" campaign for a plebiscite within existing Cuban law according to the dictatorship is "undermining the Cuban electoral system." Cuban citizens cannot independently create a prize and offer it to someone for their good works without the permission and recognition of the Castro regime. Seeking to give Cuban citizens a voice to exercise their sovereignty is considered subversive by the Castro dictatorship.

Friends of Cuban Decides following the award ceremony in Havana.
 The Castro regime's embassy in Chile issued a statement worth analyzing to better understand the nature of the system being confronted by Cuban democrats that repeated many of the same points raised with Almagro but went further in libeling Cuba Decides: ... “as an illegal anti-Cuban group that acts against the constitutional order and that provokes the repudiation of the population, with the collusion and financing of politicians and foreign institutions, in order to generate internal instability and, at the same time, affect our diplomatic relations with other countries.”

The facts of the matter are that the dictatorship does not respect its own constitutional order if it in any way limits the regime. Furthermore dissidents are systematically disenfranchised from the economy to keep them marginalized. Finally there is no freedom of assembly or association and citizen initiatives such as the Varela Project are never aired over the official media which is the only mass media on the island. This is why some in the opposition have to seek funds outside of Cuba and access to international media with the hope that it will bounce back into the island.  Nevertheless the dangers of dissent far outweigh any benefits as the untimely deaths of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante would demonstrate and still need to be investigated five years later.

Read more here:
Communist regimes have a century long track record of killing dissidents and Cuba is no different, but it is important to remember that there are two types of executions. Thousands have been placed against the wall and executed by firing squad in Cuba, others have been victims of extrajudicial killings using a variety of methods ranging from poison, car "accidents", drowning or a shot in the back. However there is what Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner called the "other wall"  and subtitled it "the assassination of character in Cuba" and his presentation in Spanish is available online that describes the killing of reputations.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo: May 15, 1967 - February 23, 2010
Even worse Cuban dissidents have been subjected to both types of execution. The case of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, who died on February 23, 2010 is a case in point. He was beaten down repeatedly and tortured over seven years in Cuban prisons for his human rights activism. Orlando Zapata Tamayo had collaborated on the Varela Project with Oswaldo Payá and engaged in human rights education campaign with Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet. His death while on hunger strike drew international attention and led to a posthumous campaign of slander by Castro regime agents to deny Orlando Zapata's history as an activist seeking to portray him instead as a violent criminal.

Today while taking part in a television program I heard first hand this execution by character assassination by a Castro regime apologist. The attack to slander and destroy the reputation of  Rosa Maria Payá using logical fallacies is underway. Under the vast majority of moral and ethical systems the ad hominem attacks, slanders and libels directed against Rosa are profoundly evil.

Communist morality has no problem with any of it because as the communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin observed in a speech to Russian communist youth on October 2, 1920:
"The class struggle is continuing and it is our task to subordinate all interests to that struggle. Our communist morality is also subordinated to that task. We say: morality is what serves to destroy the old exploiting society and to unite all the working people around the proletariat, which is building up a new, communist society."
Ronald Reagan understood the full significance of communist morality as defined by Lenin and identified how this was applied by the communist regime in Russia in 1983:
... "I pointed out that, as good Marxist-Leninists, the Soviet leaders have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is that which will further their cause, which is world revolution. I think I should point out I was only quoting Lenin, their guiding spirit, who said in 1920 that they repudiate all morality that proceeds from supernatural ideas -- that's their name for religion -- or ideas that are outside class conceptions. Morality is entirely subordinate to the interests of class war. And everything is moral that is necessary for the annihilation of the old, exploiting social order and for uniting the proletariat."
This is Machiavelli's the ends justify the means on steroids. Communist morality views revolution via class struggle as a moral imperative while at the same time dismissing traditional moral and ethical systems based in metaphysical absolutes as an instrument to control the working class.  

The outcome of this morally flawed system has been over a 100 million killed and counting, generations living in misery and the emergence of totalitarian dictatorships the world over preaching egalitarianism but delivering hardship and slavery to billions.

Read more here:

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