Friday, July 21, 2017

The failure of the Americas in Venezuela: Chickens coming home to roost

"Curses are like young chickens, they always come home to roost."  Robert Southey,The Curse of Kehama (1809) 

Venezuela in 2017

Venezuela is on the edge and reaching a tipping point. Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), said at the Atlantic Council that one of the tragedies of Venezuela is that what is happening there could have been avoided.


Democracy was not defended early on and now it has become a security and humanitarian crisis. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in their 2016 annual report paints a grim picture of Venezuela today. Below is an excerpt from the introduction:
1. During 2016, the Inter -American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Commission” or “the IACHR”) has continued to monitor the overall human rights situation in Venezuela and has observed persistent structural situations that affect the human rights of Venezuelans and led to a grave political, social, and economic crisis. These structural situations identified by the Commission have first of all included a worsening of the citizen security situation, related to the right to life and humane treatment.
2. Second, there has been deterioration of the rule of law and democratic institutions. Reports continue of lack of access to justice and an independent and impartial judicial branch, while on the other hand, political polarization has been exacerbated, resulting in open confrontation between the legislative branch and the other State authorities that has affected the balance and separation of powers necessary for a democratic society. In this context, the Commission has also observed a corresponding impact on political rights and the right to participate in public life.
3. Third, a deterioration of the right to freedom of expression has been observed, including the arbitrary detention and imprisonment of opposition figures and individuals who publicly express their disagreement with the government; repression of and undue restrictions on the right to protest; dismissal of public employees or threatening them with losing their jobs should they express political opinions against the government; campaigns to stigmatize and harass journalists, opposition politicians, and citizens; the use of criminal law and other State controls to punish or inhibit the work of a critical media; and impediments to the right to access to information.
4. Fourth, access to economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) has been severely restricted. Shortages and scarcity of food, medicine, water, and electricity have led to a grave crisis, contributing to disease outbreaks and other affects on health. The response to the situation has been deficient and in some situations entailed a lack of access to necessarily medical care. This has severely affected children, sick individuals, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and the elderly, among other groups. In this context, added to the political context, public protests have increased, and security forces have responded to them by using force.
5. The Commission has also continued to observe the precarious situations of human rights defenders, people deprived of liberty, migrants and refugees, and other particularly vulnerable groups. Finally, the Commission continues to find it difficult to conduct monitoring given that access to public information on the performance of State bodies is scarce, as is access to official data that would enable it to evaluate respect for human rights in Venezuela.

Obama shakes hands with Chavez in 2009 with Maduro in the background
Although the United States alone did not fail to defend democracy (others in the Americas also failed the South American country), it did play a role with a bad policy. The Obama Administration since 2009 sought a new relationship with Latin America, specifically with Venezuela and Cuba. It was achieved in the midst of a worsening human rights situation in the region, coinciding with the expanding influence and legitimization of the Castro regime as it normalized relations with the United States.

President Obama's March 21, 2016 visit to Cuba was not a step forward, but a huge leap backward into the 1960s when U.S. foreign policy in Latin America embraced military dictators calling them "Presidents." The visit was another part of the failed foreign policy legacy of the Obama administration, which in this case prolongs the life of the communist regime in Cuba and legitimized it internationally while marginalizing Cuba's democratic opposition. This has also had consequences for other countries in the region such as Venezuela where according to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro: “There are currently about 15,000 Cubans in Venezuela,” ... “It’s like an occupation army from Cuba in Venezuela.”

The Obama family take in a baseball game with Raul Castro in March 2016
This process has also been underway in Nicaragua, along with the continued denial of that reality by the American embassy there. Opposition lawmakers have been ousted by an electoral authority controlled by president Daniel Ortega. Ortega did not permit foreign observers into Nicaragua to monitor the November 6 presidential and legislative elections that were riggedDespite normal relations and high level outreach early in the Obama Administration the Ortega regime pursued closer relations with Russia and China. In April 2016 Nicaragua purchased 50 Russian battle tanks at a cost of $80 million. Vladimir Putin signed a new security agreement with Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega in 2016.

Strong man Daniel Ortega and President Obama in 2009
There is a price to embracing and legitimizing autocrats, unfortunately the United States will be paying it for years to come, as will many others in the Americas.  Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) in testimony before the United States Senate on July 19, 2017 highlighted the cost of not defending democracy in Venezuela:
"When others were content to look the other way as Venezuela collapsed into dictatorship, I raised my voice to denounce the systematic violation of the Constitution and the escalating violent repression. There is no greater crisis facing our hemisphere today. We must stand in solidarity with the brave people of Venezuela in restoring democracy and the rule of law in their country.
My raison d’etre at the OAS is “More Rights for More People”. This is a solemn commitment I take seriously every single day. It is a responsibility of which I will never tire. It is the fundamental role of the Organization of American States – to stand vigilant in defense of democracy throughout the Americas. This is why the Inter -American Democratic Charter was created. It is a commitment that all member states must take seriously at this moment of truth for Venezuela.
[...]
In a Hemisphere of close to 1 billion people, 20 countries that represent nearly 90% of the population of the Americas joined to speak in defense of democracy in Venezuela. Twenty foreign ministers advocated for the lives and human rights of the Venezuelan people, at the General Assembly that took place in Mexico in June. But as the violence in Venezuela escalates and the death toll continues to rise, it is clear that words are not enough.
The reluctance of the international community to act in defense of democracy has allowed the situation to deteriorate incrementally, but consistently, to the point where today it has become a full- blown humanitarian and security crisis. Every step of the way it has been too little, and too late. The Democratic Charter was designed as a preventative tool. When it was agreed, it established a very explicit authority to act in every signatory state, when necessity requires. When used as intended, it can prevent or stop any backsliding in the regions’ hard -earned democracies.
It is true that only the people of Venezuela must solve the crisis in their country. However, in Venezuela, the words of civilians are met with the weapons of the Regime. The people of Venezuela peacefully took to the streets in defense of their fundamental rights and freedoms. The Regime responded strategically and systematically, targeting an unarmed, civilian population with violence and terror.
More than 100 people have been killed since the protests began. That is one close one person each day. Of those killed, more than 30 were under the age of 21; 24 were students; 14 were teenagers. Since the protests began, more than 450 investigations into human rights violations have been opened. Civil society estimates that the number civilians injured is above 15,000.
As of July 12, there were 444 political prisoners in Venezuela; the highest number since the military dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez. These statistics do not include the thousands of lives lost in the humanitarian crisis. Countless Venezuelans are dying without food or medicine - between 4 and 6 children die every week from malnutrition."
Million of people are losing their freedom and thousands of people are losing their lives. This humanitarian and security disaster was first a moral and ethical one that could have been prevented. The international community bears a measure of responsibility in what is unfolding in Venezuela. Hopefully responsibility will be taken to resolve it.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cuba and China

Both Cuba and China have produced monsters that dwarfed their own lands.

Leaders of communist China and Cuba meet

By Dimon Liu



I remember the year Cuba came into my consciousness.  It was 1960, the height of famine during the years of Great Leap Forward.  I was a child living in the southern city of Guangzhou in China. Meal time meant a little rice, and whatever we could scrape together.  For nearly two years, we had no meat, fish or even cooking oil. We were starving.  All of a sudden, there was cane sugar from Cuba, and we school kids had to learn Cuban songs.

We had been on rations even before the Great Leap Forward which began in 1958. Thirty jin (one jin is about 1.1 pound) of grains per month for an adult, and fifteen jin for a child above the age of seven.  Two jin of meat and two ounces of cooking oil, also for a month.  Except for my family.  Having been categorized by the government as the enemies of the people, and tarred as the "black five sorts," our grain rations were half of everyone else's.  My mother's grain ration was 15 jin a month, but I got less than half - mine was 7 jin a month. During the times of shortages, even half a jin of ration coupon meant a great deal, but during the years of Great Leap Forward, the ration coupons were nearly useless.

The persistent gnawing of hunger felt like a sharp knife twisting and thrusting in my gut without respite, and on many a night I shed silent tears until I was finally able to fall asleep - a memory so painful and vivid that it still haunts me more than half a century later. During the day, small gangs of children roamed the streets looking for food. My pals and I, skinny 7-year olds, foraged as best we could to supplement our meager fares. We hunted frogs, birds, and water cockroaches.  We climbed trees for mulberries and nuts, and scraped tree barks for our mothers to cook. I built traps to catch rats and sparrows - the beginning of my architectural career. In truth, everything was skinny, only the rats had any meat on them. People on our streets were dying of many infectious diseases, though no one dared to say anyone died of hunger.

On my eighth birthday, I got a hard-boiled egg all to myself.  It was so rare and precious, I couldn't bear to eat it.  I put the egg in my pocket.  I took it out, looked at it, and put it back into my pocket; and on and on as I wandered the streets; because staying home might mean my older brother could snatch the egg from me.  Another small gang of children saw me with my egg, and ran towards me. I quickly stuffed the egg into my mouth, barely chewed it, and swallowed it, eggshells and all, even as I was being jumped on and pummeled.

Frank Dikotter, the historian at the University of Hong Kong who wrote "Mao's Great Famine", a book about this period, said in a social media post that "the first thing the regime did in September 1960 was to procure an extra 100,000 tons of grain and ship it to Cuba," in order to help break the economic blockade imposed by Washington on the island.  Dikotter added that "you can feed about 2000 people for a day with a ton of rice... Or over half a million people for a year."

Properly fed people rarely existed in China at that time, unless you belonged in the very small and exclusive club of Chinese Communist elite. For a child like me who received coupons for under 8 pounds of rice a month, you could have fed more than 2 million of us for a year; or about half a million Chinese adults for a year on a standard ration of 30 jin, or 33 pounds of rice per month for the amount of grain sent to Cuba.

Cuba was not the only place that China exported food to during those harrowing years. Yang Jisheng, author of the searing book "Tombstone," which documented meticulously the period of the Great Leap Forward, noted that China exported a total of 5 million tons of grains in 1959, to North Korea, Vietnam, East European countries, and especially to the former Soviet Union to help cover China’s debts when famine began; and a further 2.72 million tons in 1960, the height of starvation, along with a large quantity of cooking oil, eggs and other foodstuffs.

5 million tons of grains would have fed 25 millions adults for the year 1959, and 2.72 million tons would have fed 13.6 millions for the year 1960.

As of now, estimates of the dead during this time of famine range widely, from a low of 30 million acknowledged by the Chinese government, to a high of 80 million; and we won't have a firm idea of what the figures really were until the Chinese Communists are gone from the scene, and all the archives can be opened.

The fact remains that millions of people would not have starved to death if there were some error-correcting mechanisms that existed in the Chinese Communist system, but there were none; and millions died needlessly, and in a most painful way; as the government forcibly took the grain away from its people and shipped it overseas.  Chinese Communists often extolled their system as superior to democracy because of its efficiency. It is efficient, no doubt; but also most efficient in killing its own people.

I have often wondered if the Cuban people knew about the sufferings of the Chinese people at that time, and how many starved to provide them with food. I wondered if Fidel Castro knew, and if he did know, I wondered if he cared.  We knew Mao didn't care, or he wouldn't have shipped rice to Cuba and other places when his own people were starving.  As my mother used to say, only the leaders could afford to be so magnanimous about the sufferings of the people...

Ernesto "Che" Guevara meets Mao Zedong

Castro was never given to expressiveness for the help he received from China. Or perhaps Castro couldn't express it since he relied on the Soviet Union to remain in power, and by 1958, the Sino-Soviet split was bitter, and out in the open. Or perhaps Castro shared the derogatory views of the Soviets towards the Chinese at the time.  Diplomatic relations were established in 1960, but Castro didn't visit China until 35 years later, in December of 1995, after the demise of the Soviet Union in December 1991, and long after Mao - the man who starved his own people to help Cuba – had died in September of 1976.

In a documentary about Castro, aired shortly after Castro’s death was announced on November 25, 2016, CCTV, China's state run television station, said that Fidel Castro admired Mao Zedong and “regretted not being able to get to know him." However, in his 1977 interview with Barbara Walters, which surprisingly went into considerable detail on his views about China, Castro said Mao "practically destroyed the Chinese Communist party," and that Mao "admitted [to] becoming a god and betrayed the people’s revolutionary solidarity," which Castro categorized as "Mao’s gravest error."

"The men that participate in these processes acquire great power and later abuse that power," Castro told Barbara Walters about Mao and his revolutionary comrades. "I also acquired that power, but I never abused it, nor did I retain it in my hands. I distributed it. I gave it to the revolutionary institutions," he said.

It wasn't true, of course, what Castro told Barbara Walters about himself.  If Mao had Li Zhisui, who published "The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Memoirs of Mao's Personal Physician" in 1994, which exposed Mao's luxurious, debauched and abusive life in excruciating detail, Castro had Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, who published "The Double Life of Fidel Castro: My 17 Years as Personal Bodyguard to El Líder Maximo" in 2015, which described Castro's hidden life of brutality, womanizing, and outsized greed, also in excruciating detail.

I can't help but perceive a difference between Mao and Castro, even as they loom large on the international scene, both in life and in death.  Mao's atrocities were unprecedentedly large, whatever estimates one cared to use, as he unleashed famine and wave upon wave of mob violence on the Chinese people; but they felt impersonal, as if Mao, on his elevated pedestal, couldn't care less if his people suffered, lived, or died.  Not so for Castro, he seemed as if he cared, and his brutalities - gouging out eyes of a dissident here, chopping off limbs on another one there, sending his closest comrades to the executioners, and even as the numbers piled up horrifyingly, still had the feel that they were more personal.  Perhaps it is the difference between a vast continent and a small island, but both Cuba and China have produced monsters that dwarfed their own lands.

This brings me to the family of the Trudeaus.  In 1960, the same year Cuba came into my consciousness, Pierre Trudeau, the future Canadian Prime Minister, went to China as a journalist, and didn't notice that there was a famine going on. Huh? How could he be so unobservant as a journalist? Pierre Trudeau perhaps didn't want to notice, because that might have disqualified him as a future leader who was full of magnanimity when it came to the sufferings of the people, and who pridefully counted Castro, a grand practitioner of this dark art, as a family friend.  "The point is not to judge other worlds by the standards of your own," Alexandre Trudeau explained, when he had his father's 1960 book, written with Jacques Herbert, "Two Innocents in Red China", reissued in 2007. What did Alexandre Trudeau mean exactly? That the Chinese people aren't really human? That they feel no pain, and could die in the tens of millions without the Trudeaus ever noticing or caring? That civilized standards which rightly apply to the Trudeaus, need not be applied to the Chinese?

"His Hunkiness", the current Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, Pierre Trudeau's other son, issued an official statement upon Castro's death, warmly lauding Castro as “a legendary revolutionary and orator," and having "made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation," without, as is the wont of the Trudeaus, ever noticing or caring about Castro's legions of human rights abuses; as if Castro's alleged accomplishments justified or eradicated his atrocities. They don't, of course, by any stretch, but by following their father's convenient blindness, the Trudeau sons, like their father before them, are simply abetting the tyrants in furthering the people's sufferings.

Dimon Liu was born in China and immigrated to the United States in 1965. She became a human rights activist after witnessing conditions in China during a three-month trip there in 1972.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

#NoCheNoche: Forget Che's message of death and embrace Oswaldo Payá's message of life

"Means and ends are central. If your means are corroded, your ends will be corroded." - Nat Hentoff
 
Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas

Ideas have consequences and those ideas are sometimes represented by iconic images. This is the case with the image of Ernesto "Che" Guevara and the philosophy of political action that he advocated and that others seek to emulate.  His claim to fame was the role he played along with Fidel and Raul Castro in installing a totalitarian communist regime in Cuba and attempting to spread this model using violent means in Africa and Latin America causing the deaths of ten of thousands of innocents.

Che Guevara, an admirer of Mao Zedong adapted his form of guerilla warfare from the Chinese communist leader. Che published influential manuals Guerrilla Warfare (1961) and Guerrilla Warfare: A Method (1963), based on his own experiences and partly Mao's writings. Guevara stated that revolution in Latin America must come through insurgent forces developed in rural areas with peasant support. His legacy of glorifying violence through an erroneous analysis of guerilla warfare led to bloodbaths in Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chiapas, Congo, Angola and decades of military dictatorship and political violence.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara meets Mao Zedong
Guevara was executed on October 9, 1967 in La Higuera, Bolivia after he and his band of guerrillas were captured trying to overthrow the government to install a Castro style regime.

Guevara had been killed and just months before being assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. told his staff to combat the “romantic illusion” of Che Guevara style guerilla warfare among young radicals concluding: “We must not be intimidated by those who are laughing at nonviolence now.

However the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) doesn't agree with Dr. King and decided on June 18, 2013 to add “The Life and Works of Che Guevara” to the World Registrar. UNESCO is funding to preserve Che Guevara’s papers. Guevara in addition to promoting communist ideology, is known as an advocate for guerrilla warfare who viewed terrorism as a legitimate method of struggle against an enemy. U.S. tax dollars are paying for some of this. Perhaps one should consider some of the messages UNESCO and U.S. tax dollars are paying for promoting the writings of Mr. Guevara.

However the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) doesn't agree with Dr. King and decided on June 18, 2013 to add “The Life and Works of Che Guevara” to the World Registrar. UNESCO is providing funds to preserve Che Guevara’s papers. Guevara in addition to promoting communist ideology, is known as an advocate for guerrilla warfare who viewed terrorism as a legitimate method of struggle against an enemy. U.S. tax dollars are paying for some of this. Perhaps one should consider some of the messages UNESCO and U.S. tax dollars are paying for promoting the writings of Mr. Guevara.
“Blind hate against the enemy creates a forceful impulse that cracks the boundaries of natural human limitations, transforming the soldier in an effective, selective and cold killing machine. A people without hate cannot triumph against the adversary.” (1967)
“To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary … These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution!” (1959)
 Guevara's legacy and philosophy of hatred, war and death is a recipe for violent failure. In 2011 events in Libya were still unfolding but the images of Che Guevara on both sides indicated that regardless of the outcome the end result would a bloody and violent disaster and so it was.

UNESCO promoting these writings internationally will lead to more bloodshed and conflict. Instead of embracing this icon of violence, the world needs to learn from and emulate non violent icons such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Aung San Suu Kyi, Corazon Aquino, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Desmond Tutu, and Martin Luther King Jr.

In a world that has been torn apart by war, who offers more hope for the future, a disciple of Mao Ze Dong or Martin Luther King Jr?

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was a disciple of King, who corresponded with both Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel. Unlike the Argentine revolutionary, Oswaldo’s nonviolent resistance required much more creativity and courage to confront an all powerful totalitarian state, and he offered a moral and ethical path to liberation.

In October 2002, the European Parliament awarded Oswaldo Payá the Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Members of the European Union pressured the Cuban government into allowing Oswaldo to travel to Europe to collect the Sakharov Prize. In December of 2002, the Castro regime granted him permission to travel to the ceremonies in Strasbourg, France, but not before attacking Oswaldo's home and leaving death threats there. In Strasbourg on December 17, 2002, he accepted the Sakharov Prize. In the course of a twenty minute speech, Oswaldo Payá outlined his political philosophy.
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.” This is the liberation which we are proclaiming.
On March 30, 2012 prior to his untimely death on July 22, 2012 at the hands of Castro's state security apparatus Oswaldo was warning of the fake change underway in Cuba.
"Our Movement denounces the regime's attempt to impose a fraudulent change, i.e. change without rights and the inclusion of many interests in this change that sidesteps democracy and the sovereignty of the people of Cuba. The attempt to link the Diaspora in this fraudulent change is to make victims participate in their own oppression.
Days prior to his death Oswaldo Payá offered a path to freedom in July of 2012 in the publication Somos Liberación.
“Already many Cubans have discovered and soon all of them will discover that this oppression, that this imposed lie, can be overcome recognizing ourselves as brothers to conquer our rights peacefully. So there is hope.”
 Che Guevara's legacy of blood and terror should be lamented not celebrated, much less promoted by international organizations subsidized by US taxpayers.  However the life and writings of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas should be and placed within the canon of nonviolence in the World Registrar. Finally, friends of freedom should celebrate this icon of Cuban freedom and nonviolent resistance with his image.

#NoCheNoche event organized by the Victims of Communism on July 19, 2017

Cuba country report: 2016 - 2017

Obama policy marginalized dissidents, legitimized regime. Fidel Castro died and Miami celebrated. Meanwhile more repression in Cuba, new prisoners of conscience, and a more aggressive posture in Venezuela. The Trump Presidency has begun the process of undoing some of the previous Administration's Cuba policy.
 
Cuba in 2017 is a captive nation that since 1959 has been subjected to a communist regime run by the Castro family. 11 million souls continue to have their lives coarsened by a totalitarian regime that systematically violates the human rights of all Cubans.   The Obama Administration's Cuba policy continued to unfold further marginalizing dissidents, legitimizing the Castro regime internationally until the final days of his presidency. Three decisions cemented the Obama White House's legacy on Cuba at the expense not only of a free Cuba but of the lives and security of American citizens. 
  • On October 14, 2016 The White House issued a Presidential Policy Directive ( PPD) that calls for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to "support broader United States Government efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, with Intelligence Community elements working to find opportunities for engagement on areas of common interest through which we could exchange information on mutual threats with Cuban counterparts." A former NSA official wrote that "Obama just opened the door for Castro's spies."
  • On January 12, 2017 The White House released a "Statement by the President on Cuban Immigration Policy" that does two concrete things: Further restricts the Cuban Adjustment Act and ends the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. The Obama administration secretly negotiated with the Castro regime and did not consult with Congress in restricting the Cuban Adjustment Act, which is US law.
  • On January 17, 2017 President Barack Obama granted clemency to Oscar López Rivera, a founder of the Armed Forces of National Liberation Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), who has been portrayed by leftists as a political prisoner while downplaying his violent past, but the facts demonstrate otherwise. The New York Daily News on January 17, 2017 offered the following summary:
    FALN placed more than 130 bombs in American cities — including one in New York on Jan. 24, 1975. The explosive went off in busy Fraunces Tavern during lunch hour. Four people died, including Frank Connor, a 33-year-old father. “I faced Lopez six years ago at his parole hearing ... If he had expressed any atonement, any sympathy or empathy ... we’d have recommended he be released. But he didn’t,” said Joe Connor, who was a 9-year-old when his father was killed. López got 10 years tacked onto his sentence when he and a fellow FALN member were caught plotting a prison break that included killing their guards.
     Zach Dorfman in The Wall Street Journal wrote an important analysis on June 8, 2017 of how Fidel Castro supported terrorism in America and the role played by the dictatorship in funding and training the FALN. Long time Cuban activist Frank Calzon in a June 5, 2017 oped in The Miami Herald provided a partial summary of the Castro regime's support for international terrorism including the United States:
"A summary of Havana’s support for terrorism should include the heist of $7 million from Wells Fargo in West Hartford, Connecticut, in 1983. The money was taken to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico and turned over to the regime. Castro’s Cuba has also been associated with the infamous terrorist Carlos, who in 1975 kidnapped 70 hostages in Vienna (three people were killed) at a meeting of oil ministers from OPEC. “Carlos” who committed several murders in France was, according to The Guardian, provided by Cuba “with passports, money and five apartments in Paris.” As a result, the Quai d’Orsay expelled several Cuban diplomats."

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article154513419.html#storylink=cpy

2016: Year of change at the top
The past year ushered in a historic change that many had awaited with great anticipation and that was the death of  Fidel Castro on November 25, 2016. Celebrations broke out in the streets of Miami where tens of thousands of Cubans and Cuban Americans went out to celebrate the tyrant's departure.

 
Cuban American voters played a role in ushering in another, but unexpected change, with Mr. Donald J. Trump winning the Presidency of the United States. President elect Trump had a clearer and historically more accurate view of Fidel Castro that he expressed in a statement following the dictator's death that read in part:
"Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights."
Granting unilateral concessions to long term items that the Cuban government had wanted for decades as President Obama did over eight years did not endear him to the Castro regime. Instead they viewed him as weak and it manifested in high profile ways. 
President Obama does the wave with Dictator Raul Castro at baseball game
Nine months after President Obama's state visit to Cuba (March 20 - 22, 2016) on January 2, 2017 Raúl Castro presided over a military parade in Havana where marching troops chanted about shooting the American President in the head: 
“Obama! Obama! with what fervor we’d like to confront your clumsiness, to give you a cleansing with rebels and mortar, and send you a hat of lead to the head.”
Not fearing reprisals for bad actions the regime has been more aggressive at home and abroad engaging in violent repression to the detriment of Cubans and Venezuelans.

Human Rights
In 2016 there were  9,940 politically motivated arrests in Cuba documented by the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation.  There are new prisoners of conscience. Compare this with 2009, the first year of the Obama Administration, there were just 869 arbitrary detentions documented. During the eight years of the Obama White House there was more than an eleven fold increase in politically motivated arbitrary detentions with 2016 being the worse. Religious repression escalated in Cuba in 2016  with pastors beaten up, Churches confiscated, and some demolished by the dictatorship.

Sirley Avila Leon denounces death threats against her son and mom
Update on 2015 machete attack victim
Sirley Ávila León on May 24, 2015 was the victim of a brutal machete attack carried out by Osmany Carriòn, with the complicit assistance of his wife, that led to the loss of her left hand, right upper arm nearly severed, and knees slashed into leaving her crippled. Following the attack she did not receive adequate medical care and was told quietly by medical doctors in Cuba that if she wanted to get better that she would need to leave the country. The regime had been embarrassed by a campaign she organized to keep a school open. She arrived in Miami on March 8, 2017 and thanks to the Cuban exile community a team of medical doctors attended to her and by September of 2017 Sirley was walking and returned home to Cuba. She found her home occupied by strangers and went to her mother's house. A short time later a camera was set up outside to spy on her. By mid October 2016 Sirley was getting death threats from state security and feared for her life.  She fled back to the United States a couple of weeks later and sought asylum.


Rising repression during the Obama Presidency

New prisoners of conscience
Cubans had to mourn the death of Fidel Castro or else face punishment. Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was the founding leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) and when he was killed on July 22, 2012 along with the organizations youth leader, Harold Cepero Escalante a new leader was selected: Eduardo Cardet Concepción.  The new MCL leader was traveling abroad when Fidel Castro died on November 25, 2016 and gave a frank assessment of the old tyrant's legacy in Cuba. When he returned to Cuba five days later he was beaten up in front of his family, jailed and in March of 2017 sentenced to three years in prison. An entire family: Maydolis Leyva Portelles, the mother, twin sisters Anairis, Adairis Miranda Leyva and their brother Fidel Manuel Batista Leyva were taken away and detained for not grieving Fidel Castro's death and going out during the official period of mourning.

Jailed pro-democracy leader Eduardo Cardet of the Christian Liberation Movement
Dissident arrested and sent to psychiatric facility as punishment
On May Day in Cuba before the world's cameras a lone Cuban ran down the path the parade would take, waving an American flag he was tackled down by State Security and jailed.  Daniel Llorente Miranda was charged with "public disorder and resistance" and was initially held at the Technical Department of Investigations of the Police in 100 and Aldabó. Weeks later he was transferred to the Comandante Dr. Bernabé Ordaz Ducungé Psychiatric Hospital better known by its pre-revolutionary name Mazorra. Using psychiatric facilities to torture dissidents is a practice that originated in the Soviet Union but was adopted early on by the Castro regime's intelligence services. Mazorra is a madhouse of death were patients have died by the score from exposure to the elements and neglect by hospital staff.

Students and faculty expelled for their beliefs
Fếlix Yuniel Llerena López, a 20 year-old religious freedom defender, was expelled from the Enrique José Varona Pedagogical University in Havana on May 8, 2017 following a visit to the United States. 18-year-old journalism student, Karla Pérez González, was expelled from Marta Abreu University of Santa Clara for “political reasons” on April 12, 2017 and her expulsion ratified three days later. 24 year old David Mauri Cardoso was expelled from the University of Cienfuegos in February of 2017 after he honestly answered politically loaded questions in what was supposed to be a Spanish literature exam. If you have a relative who is a dissident, although you are not, you can still be fired from your job. Professor Dalila Rodriguez from the University of Las Villas was expelled from her job on May 9, 2017 because her father, Leonardo Rodriguez is a dissident.  These are not  new tactics. Expelling students and denying them an education for their political orientation has a long and shameful history in Cuba under the Castro regime too often ignored.

 Commerce
 In spite of repeatedly loosening sanctions on the dictatorship, trade between Cuba and the United States has imploded under the Obama Administration. Peak year of U.S. trade in goods with Cuba was 2008, the last year of the Bush Administration. The two worst years in trade are the ones following the new Cuba policy launch in December of 2014. All of the details are available at the U.S. Census Bureau. The Cuban economy contracted in 2016 and at the same time military control over it has expanded including the Old Havana project that until this past year had been under civilian control.  Trade peaked under Bush in 2008 with $711.5 million  and began a steady decline under Obama with just $245.5 million in 2016.

Trade with Cuba collapsed during Obama Presidenecy



Venezuela: Cuba's colonial possession
On May 15, 2016 Henry Ramos Allup, the head of the National Assembly of Venezuela complained over social media of the leadership role played by a Cuban general and 60 Cuban officers over the Venezuelan military to maintain Maduro in power and continue exploiting Venezuela's natural resources. Despite this long time reality Secretary of State John Kerry in August of 2015 reported "the United States and Cuba are talking about ways to solve the Venezuelan crisis."
Mary O'Grady writing in The Wall Street Journal in an oped titled "How Cuba Runs Venezuela" explained:
"Havana doesn’t care about Venezuelan poverty or famine or whether the regime is unpopular. It has spent a half-century sowing its ideological “revolution” in South America. It needs Venezuela as a corridor to run Colombian cocaine to the U.S. and to Africa to supply Europe. It also relies heavily on cut-rate Venezuelan petroleum.  To keep its hold on Venezuela, Cuba has embedded a Soviet-style security apparatus." ... Every Venezuelan armed-forces commander has at least one Cuban minder, if not more, a source close to the military told me. Soldiers complain that if they so much as mention regime shortcomings over a beer at a bar, their superiors know about it the next day."
The Obama Administration's view that the Castro regime can be a partner in resolving the crisis in Venezuela indicates that it did not understand that it is the Cuban dictatorship that is causing the crisis and has existential reasons to continue driving the South American nation into becoming another Cuba. The new Trump Administration appears to be going in another and saner direction on both Cuba and Venezuela policy.

Cuba, National Security and the war on terror.
U.S. Marine Corps. Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency reported to the Senate Armed Services Committee in his written submission on May 23, 2017:
Russia and China are preeminent among the foreign intelligence threats to DoD and U.S. national security through their robust use of traditional and nontraditional collection efforts against U.S. personnel, operations, and capabilities. Iran and Cuba also pose persistent foreign intelligence threats to the United States. Cuba’s intelligence apparatus, for example, maintains a robust capability and an intent to give priority to collection on the United States.
The previous Administration's director of national intelligence had reported similar information in February of 2016 to the same committee that also highlighted Cuba as one of four main threats.
Undeclared military cargo Cuba tried to smuggle to North Korea
Smuggling heavy weapons to North Korea (2013)
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli tweeted the above photo with the following text on July 15, 2013: “Panama captured North Korean-flagged ship from Cuba with undeclared military cargo.” On March 6, 2014 a panel of UN experts reported that in the  the shipment of smuggled weapons sent by Cuba to North Korea, hidden under bags of sugar, what was found, in part, was: "A total of 25 standard shipping containers (16 forty-foot and 9 twenty-foot) and 6 trailers were found, for a total of about 240 tons of arms and related materiel." 

The Cubans were caught trying to provide the North Koreans with surface to air missile systems (SA-2 (C-75 Volga) and SA-3 (C-125 Pechora), two MiG 21 jet fighters, and 15 MiG-21 engines, eight 73 mm rocket propelled projectiles (PG-9/PG-15 anti-tank and OG-9/OG-15 fragmentation projectiles) to be fired with recoil-less rifles, as well as a single PG-7VR round, a high explosive antitank tandem charge to penetrate explosive reactive armor, were also in the shipment. 

 
The Panel noted "that some of the SA-2 and SA-3 parts could also meet the criteria defined in the list of items, materials, equipment, goods and technology related to ballistic missile programmes (S/2012/947), whose export and import by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are prohibited."

Colombian government seizes smuggled weapons shipment bound for Cuba (2015)
On March 2, 2015 news broke that the government of Colombia had seized a shipment of ammunition bound for Cuba on a China-flagged ship due to a lack of proper documentation. The BBC reported that "Officials said about 100 tons of gunpowder, almost three million detonators and some 3,000 cannon shells were found on board. The ship's records said it was carrying grain products." Blogging by Boz, founder of Hxagon, a consulting and technology company that provides risk assessments and predictive analysis in emerging markets, reached a reasonable conclusion: "Two big shipments of weapons seized in 20 months means that this is probably a regular occurrence."

U.S. Hellfire missile ends up in Cuba (2014 - 2016)
A U.S. Hellfire missile, used in NATO exercises in Europe, on its way back to the United States ended up in Cuba by June of 2014. Despite repeated requests from the Obama Administration, Cuba refused to return it until it became a public embarrassment over a year later in February of 2016. This took place while the White House was secretly negotiating with the Castro regime to normalize relations.


Harboring cop killers and terrorists
Cuban diplomats for more than 50 years plotted and facilitated terrorist attacks, beat up peaceful protesters, threatened and bitten protesters using homophobic language, and participated in the cover up of extrajudicial killings. The case of escaped cop killer Joanne Chesimard harbored by the Castro regime is often mentioned in the press but there are many others.

Guillermo Morales who according to The Washington Post, "escaped from a hospital in New York while under police custody. He has admitted he was planting a bomb at a New York military installation when the bomb blew up, taking nearly all his fingers. He was facing 89 years in prison when he escaped. He is still believed to be living in Cuba." The New York Times reported on June 29, 2017 that Ishmael LaBeet (today goes by the name Ishmael Muslim Ali) who in 1973 "was convicted along with four other men of murdering eight people in a shooting at the Fountain Valley Golf Course in St. Croix, V.I., in 1972"and "in 1984, as he was being transferred from a court in the Virgin Islands back to prison on an American Airlines flight, he hijacked the plane and redirected it to Cuba, where he has lived ever since."

On July 8, 2017 The New York Times reported that there are an estimated 70 other fugitives from U.S. justice being harbored by the Castro regime. The Obama Administration removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism but if the Castro regime today continues to harbor and host terrorists in Cuba shouldn't they return this terrorists and killers to face justice in the United States or failing to do that be returned to the list of terror sponsors?

Drug trafficking
Ermal Hoxha (age 42), the grandson of former Albanian communist dictator Enver Hoxha, was found guilty earlier this month of belonging to a "criminal group involved in cocaine trafficking from Cuba" was arrested in January 2015 and 264 pounds of cocaine confiscated.  In another case not involving Hoxha, but involving the Cuban government, Panamanian police seized more than 880 pounds of cocaine in a Cuban ship on its way to Belgium in April of 2016.  There is  a long history of collaboration between international drug cartels and the Castro regime stretching back at least to the early 1980s where cocaine trafficking profits were used to fund communist guerilla movements in South America.  Despite all this under the Obama Administration the Drug Enforcement Agency publicized how it was sharing intelligence on drug trafficking with the Castro regime, and one still wonders why cocaine is flooding America and deadly overdoses are at record highs?

Ending a failed policy? A good first step but more is needed.
The Trump Administration took a first step to address the previous Cuba policy's shortcomings on June 16, 2017 releasing the "National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba" that begins by defining what will guide this new policy:

My Administration's policy will be guided by the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, as well as solidarity with the Cuban people.  I will seek to promote a stable, prosperous, and free country for the Cuban people.  To that end, we must channel funds toward the Cuban people and away from a regime that has failed to meet the most basic requirements of a free and just society.
The previous US Cuba policy was drawn up in secret, excluding Congressmen, Senators and even the State Department but included high ranking members of the Castro regime, among them Raul Castro's son, Alejandro Castro, with a small group of Administration officials led by an individual with a degree in creative writing, and does not serve the just interests of the United States.

President Trump begins to undo predecessor's Cuba policy

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dr. Yang Jianli’s Speech at “Remembering The Legacy Of Liu Xiaobo”

Vigil in Washington D.C. for Chinese dissident, human rights defender and Nobel Laureate who died after prolonged imprisonment in China for nonviolently advocating for freedom in China. Yang Jianli spoke during the event organized by Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Marion Smith (VOC), Dr. Yang Jianli (Initiatives for China), John Suarez (FCF)
Dr. Yang Jianli’s Speech at “Remembering The Legacy Of Liu Xiaobo” 
Hosted by Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation
Monday, July 17th, 2017 at Victims of Communism Memorial

 By Yang Jianli

Tonight we mourn the tragic passing of Liu Xiaobo, a great loss to the people of China, indeed, to the entire humanity.

Liu Xiaobo was not only the best known freedom and democracy fighter of China, but, in life as well as in death, he represents the best of what China can ever be.

In April 1989, when the Tiananmen democracy movement just broke out, he returned to Beijing from New York and became the most important intellectual leader of the movement. After the Tiananmen Massacre, he shouldered both moral and political responsibilities and continued to fight from inside China while many others left the country and even abandoned the movement. He was in and out prison and spent half of the past 28 years after the Tiananmen Massacre in incarceration. Never wavering in spirit, he shared the sufferings of his compatriots and gave his life for them. He is a martyr and saint.

Yes. Liu Xiaobo is a martyr and saint who possesses a moral authority that his persecutors can only envy. His legacy of love, justice, peace and sacrifice will surely far outlive the deeds of those who persecuted him.


That is exactly why the leaders of China are so afraid of him, so afraid of his words and deeds, and so afraid of his legacy. They are afraid of the inevitable comparison between Liu Xiaobo’s Chinese dream and Xi Jinping’s; they are afraid of the unavoidable likening of the Chinese Communist regime to the Nazis regime because Liu Xiaobo has been the first Nobel Peace Prize winner who died under confinement since Carl von Ossietzky, a German pacifist and an opponent of the Nazis, who died in 1938.

The CCP regime took pains to show the world it was strong and not afraid of Liu Xiaobo, yet its actions suggested otherwise. The CCP regime took pains to show the world that China is rising as a great civilized nation, yet its actions suggested otherwise. No nation that routinely persecutes, tortures and murders its best people can ever be described as strong, as great; no nation that does not allow a man such as Liu Xiaobo to die as a freeman is going to rise as a respected world power. Never.

In death, Liu Xiaobo has overcome the limits of time and space. The leaders of China wanted to bury him, trying make him disappear all together. But these cowards failed to understand that Liu Xiaobo is a seed. Where you bury him, there he grows. He is everywhere and forever.