Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Manuel Noriega, the Castro brothers and Cocaine: Lessons not learned

Noreiga, Castro and lessons not learned in Panama

Partners in Crime: Manuel Noriega and Fidel Castro
 
General Manuel Noriega, an authoritarian dictator, that the U.S. shared drug intelligence with to counter drug trafficking and "showered with letters of commendation and grateful thanks by the Drug Enforcement Agency in Washington" was not what he appeared to be described as in government reports. Noriega was playing a dangerous game of double cross.

In 1984 when Manuel Noriega got in trouble with Colombian cartels after taking their money then seizing a drug shipment he reached out to Fidel Castro to mediate the dispute. Cuba had been placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism on March 1, 1982, less than three months after the US State Department confirmed that the Cuban government was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the Colombian M19 terrorist group then battling to overthrow Colombia’s democratic government. Suffice it to say that General Noriega's troubles with the cartels were resolved with the help of the communist dictator plugged into the drug trade.

According to The New York Times in it's obituary citing the 1990  book “In the Time of the Tyrants,” the Panamanian strongman "sold Fidel Castro thousands of Panamanian passports, at $5,000 each, for use by Cuban secret agents and possibly agents of other Soviet bloc nations." The authors of the book, Richard M. Koster and Guillermo Sánchez Borbóng, estimated that Noriega's "illicit gains came to at least $772 million."

However by 1990 Manuel Noriega was in U.S. custody and served what would be a twenty year prison sentence in the United, followed by additional years in a French prison for money laundering, and finally more years in a Panamanian prison for disappearing members of the democratic opposition.

But what about his partners in crime, the Castro brothers?

In a 1991 Frontline documentary, Cuba and Cocaine, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Jeff Karonis, stated, "We would observe in the middle of the day an air drop going on inside Cuban waters. The scenario would be for a small twin-engine airplane with maybe 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of cocaine to fly over Cuba, drop the drugs to a predesignated rendezvous point to several boats. Then it would exit back down off Cuba, and many times a Cuban military vessel would be in the immediate vicinity, right on scene with them.''

In 1989, a federal grand jury indicted Robert Vesco for arranging safe passage for drug planes over Cuban airspace after obtaining approval from Cuban authorities. According to the 1989 indictment, Reinaldo Ruiz was allowed to land planes in Cuba to refuel after dropping drug cargo off the Cuban coast. Drug-smuggling motorboats would come from Florida to pick up the cargo, and Cuban Coast Guard radar monitored U.S. Coast Guard cutters to help the smugglers evade them.


During General Manuel Noriega's 1992 trial information emerged publicly implicating the Castro regime that Sun Sentinel reported at the time:
"Federal prosecutors say Noriega traveled to Havana to ask [Fidel] Castro to mediate a potentially deadly dispute with top members of Colombia`s Medellin cocaine cartel. They say the cartel chiefs were upset because a major drug lab had been seized in Panama despite payment of millions of dollars in protection money to Noriega. According to the Noriega indictment, Castro negotiated a peace accord between the cartel and Noriega at the 1984 meeting. The allegation forms a cornerstone of the racketeering and drug trafficking charges against Noriega."
At the same time convicted cartel leader Carlos Lehder directly implicated Raul Castro and U.S. fugitive Robert Vesco "to route cocaine flights through Cuba." Capitol Hill Cubans blogged how two years later, a federal indictment listed General Raul Castro as part of a conspiracy that smuggled seven and a half tons of cocaine into the United States over a 10-year period but the Clinton administration overruled prosecutors

Sharing drug intelligence with a hostile and unreliable regime

The public discussion surrounding cooperating with the Cuba dictatorship on counter-narcotics efforts goes back  at least 27 years. Representative Charlie Rangel on July 3, 1989 in a letter to The New York Times started to make the case for the United States and the Castro regime to cooperate to stop regional drug trafficking. This ignored the Castro brothers alliance with Colombian drug cartels to advance their regional ambitions to destabilize democracies in the Americas. 


In 2015 over social media the Drug Enforcement Agency reported that they were hosting "senior Cuban government officials to discuss efforts to combat drug trafficking to and from Cuba. Meanwhile in Colombia both FARC and the Castro regime have been legitimized.

General Raul Castro has played a high profile role in mediating the peace negotiations between the Santos government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) FARC in Colombia. FARC are known for funding their conflict with Cocaine production. The State Department's report offers ominous news on Cocaine production in Colombia:

 The United States estimates that the area devoted to coca cultivation in Colombia increased 42 percent in 2015 to 159,000 ha from 112,000 ha in 2014, returning to cultivation levels last seen in Colombia in 2007. 
Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post reported on the Venezuela, FARC, Cuba trafficking axis on May 24, 2015 in the article "A drug cartel’s power in Venezuela":
Ever since Colombian commandos captured the laptop of a leader of the FARC organization eight years ago, it’s been known that Chávez gave the Colombian narcoguerrillas sanctuary and allowed them to traffic cocaine from Venezuela to the United States with the help of the Venezuelan army. But not until a former Chávez bodyguard [ Leamsy Salazar] defected to the United States in January did the scale of what is called the “Cartel of the Suns ” start to become publicly known.
[...]

The day after Salazar’s arrival in Washington, Spain’s ABC newspaper published a detailed account of the emerging case against Cabello, and last month, ABC reporter Emili Blasco followed up with a book laying out the allegations of Salazar and other defectors, who say Cuba’s communist regime and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah have been cut in on the trafficking. That was followed by a lengthy report last week in the Wall Street Journal that said Cabello’s cartel had turned Venezuela into “a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering.”
Worse yet American diplomats also know that the Castro regime provides safe haven for the FARC in Cuba because it has appeared in Wikileaks. The close relationship between the regimes in Havana and Caracas has also been long and well documented.

Sadly, the lessons that U.S. officials should have learned from the Manuel Noriega debacle have not been learned and are being repeated in Cuba to the detriment of American lives lost to drug addiction and democracies destabilized in Latin America.

Diosdado Cabello target of the DEA with General Raul Castro and his Foreign Minister


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Cubans in Ethiopia: Castro's unholy and silent alliance with war criminal Mengistu Haile Mariam

Castro regime's involvement in mass murder in Ethiopia documented

Fidel Castro lounging with Mengistu Haile Mariam, in Ethiopia in 1977
Today while attending the Conservatives International gathering in Miami, Senator Ben Murray Bruce of Nigeria praised the Castro regime's role in ending Apartheid in South Africa, of which  I have to admit that I am skeptical of for reasons argued here before in this blog.

Later on in the question and answer period I asked Senator Bruce if he was aware of the Cuban role in genocide in Ethiopia in alliance with later convicted war criminal Mengistu Haile Mariam.  The Senator indicated that he had no knowledge of it, but that if someone did something good on Monday and something bad on Tuesday that he would celebrate what was done on Monday and condemn what was done on Tuesday.

Fidel and Raul Castro were both deeply involved in sending 17,000 Cuban troops to South Africa in assisting Mengistu in consolidating his rule and eliminating actual and potential opposition. The last Cuban troops did not leave Ethiopia until 1989 and were present and complicit in the engineered famine that took place there.  In 1990 traveling on a train through East Germany on my way to Prague I spent some time speaking with an Ethiopian economist who told me how Cuban troops would round up starving Ethiopian farmers when they got close to the cities, with grain stores, and drove them back out into the countryside to starve.

Raul Castro and Fidel Castro with ally Mengistu Haile Mariam
Below are excerpts of some reports done on the Castro dictatorship's involvement in Ethiopia and links to the complete articles. I've highlighted the mention of Cubans in bold.  The first excerpt is taken from the September 21, 1978 Rolling Stone article "Ethiopia After the Revolution: Vultures Return to the Land of Sheba" authored by Donald R. Katz.

Toward the middle of last year [1977], Mengistu pulled out all the stops. "It is an historical obligation," he said then, "to clean up vigilantly using the revolutionary sword." He announced that the shooting was about to start and that anyone in the middle would be caught in the cross fire. In what came to be known as the "Red Terror," he proceeded to round up all those who opposed the military regime. According to Amnesty International, the Dergue killed over 10,000 people by the end of the year. One anti-government party, mostly made up of students and teachers, was singled out as "the opposition." The Red Terror operated quietly and efficiently under the media cover provided by a vicious desert war that started when Somalia invaded eastern Ethiopia 10 months ago. Around this time, President Carter abandoned a long-term military agreement with Ethiopia on the stated grounds of "gross and systematic human rights violations," and Cuban soldiers and Russian arms poured in to protect and "consolidate the gains" of the revolution. By the time the Somalis were finally chased from Ethiopia's eastern front two weeks before I arrived, the politics of the revolution had been further obscured by Mengistu's determination to fight yet another war against secessionists in the country's northern province of Eritrea. After months of killing Ethiopian youth along with assorted Somalis and Eritreans, Mengistu declared to the world that the "anti-people forces who had lined us up for their lunch – we have had them for breakfast."
Human Rights Watch in their 2008 report on Ethiopia titled outlined "Collective Punishment War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali Region" some of the practices carried out by Cuban troops sent there by Fidel and Raul Castro excerpted below:

Mengistu’s “Secret Wars” in Southeast Ethiopia, 1978-84

Although riven by internal divisions, Ogaadeeni and Oromo insurgencies continued their operations in southeast Ethiopia, sometimes from bases on Somali soil.21 By early 1979, the insurgents controlled a substantial part of the countryside.22
Africa Watch (the precursor to Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division) analyzed Ethiopian counter-insurgency operations in this period and found that they followed a four-pronged approach: i) the forced displacement of much of the civilian population into shelters and protected villages; ii) military offensives against people and economic assets outside the shelters; iii) the sponsoring of insurgent groups against the WSLF and Somali government; and iv) attempts to promote the repatriation of refugees.23 In December 1979, a new Ethiopian military offensive, this time including Soviet advisors and Cuban troops, “was more specifically directed against the population’s means of survival, including poisoning and bombing waterholes and machine gunning herds of cattle.”24 Militarily, the counter-insurgency operations succeeded in greatly weakening the insurgents or driving them across the border into Somalia.25
Charles Lane of The Washington Post joins with Senator Ben Murray Bruce of Nigeria in placing Cuban involvement in South Africa on the positive side of the ledger in the December 1, 2016 article "Castro was no liberator"  but then the journalist raises the following question that touches heavily on Ethiopia:
Answering it would require broader examination of Castro’s Cold War record in Africa, to include the eastern regions of the continent, where Cuba intervened militarily on behalf of the Ethiopian dictator, Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, in the 1970s. Mengistu participated in a successful military coup against the U.S.-backed Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, eventually seizing power on Feb. 3, 1977,by massacring his rivals in the officer corps. Castro admired this bloody deed as a preemptive strike against “rightists” that showed “wisdom” and cleared the way for Cuba to support Mengistu “without any constraints,” as he explained to East German dictator Erich Honecker in an April 1977 meeting whose minutes became public after the fall of European communism. [...] With the Cuban forces watching his back, Mengistu wrapped up his bloody campaign of domestic repression, known as “the Red Terror,” and sent his own Soviet-equipped, Cuban-trained troops to crush a rebellion in Eritrea. The last Cuban troops did not leave Ethiopia until September 1989; they were still on hand as hundreds of thousands died during the 1983-1985 famine exacerbated by Mengistu’s collectivization of agriculture.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article118362988.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article118362988.html#storylink=c
 There is also video footage of the Castro regime's involvement in Ethiopia along with the testimony of victims.


Fidel and Raul Castro's comrade, Mengistu was found guilty of genocide on December 12, 2006, and was sentenced to life in prison in January 2007. He was sentenced to death in absentia on May 26, 2008 following an appeal. Mengistu currently resides in Zimbabwe under the protection of African despot Robert Mugabe.

This chapter of the Castro regime's involvement in Ethiopia should not be forgotten when discussing the Cuban presence in Africa.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Amnesty International issues new urgent action for Cuban prisoner of conscience Eduardo Cardet

“Political activities are passed off as criminal offences such as inciting public scandal, contempt of or offences against the authorities, and the political police use these classifications to lock up dissidents." - Eduardo Cardet, September 16, 2016, ABC International

Jailed since November 30, 2016 for criticizing Fidel Castro.
 
Further information on UA: 32/17 Index: AMR 25/6363/2017 Cuba Date: 25 May 2017
URGENT ACTION HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER’S SENTENCE UPHELD

By Amnesty International

A Provincial Court upheld a three-year prison sentence against human rights defender Eduardo Cardet who continues to be held in the Provincial Prison of Holguín, south-east Cuba. He is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally.

On 17 May, the Popular Provincial Court of Holguín (Tribunal Provincial Popular de Holguín) ratified in appeal the judgement handed down on 20 March sentencing Dr Eduardo Cardet Concepción to three years in prison. Eduardo Cardet is the leader of the pro-democracy movement Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, MCL). He has been held in prison in Holguín since his arrest on 30 November 2016, five days after the death of the former leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro.

Eduardo Cardet was charged with attacking an official of the state (atentado). Prior to his arrest, Eduardo Cardet gave a number of interviews published in international media in which he was critical of the Cuban government. In an interview with Madrid-based radio station esRadio, aired two days before his arrest, he described the mourning in Cuba following the death of Fidel Castro as imposed, and said: “Castro was a very controversial man, very much hated and rejected by our people”.

Eduardo Cardet’s wife told Amnesty International that she last visited him in prison on 25 May and speaks to him on the phone daily. She stated that her husband is distraught about his sentence being upheld and that he has complained that officials inside the prison are threatening to prevent phone calls or visits from family members. His wife believes these threats are an attempt to silence the family from further publicizing Eduardo Cardet’s case. Eduardo Cardet is asthmatic and his wife explained that he has suffered from several respiratory infections. It is crucial that the prison authorities continue to provide him with any medical care he may require while in detention.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

  • Calling on the authorities to release human rights defender Dr Eduardo Cardet immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression;
  • Urging them to ensure that, pending his release, he is provided with any medical care he may require; that he is not tortured or otherwise ill-treated; and that he is granted regular access to family and lawyers of his choosing;
  • Calling on them to guarantee the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association including for dissident, opponent or activist voices and to repeal all legislation which unduly limits these rights.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 6 JULY 2017 TO:

President of the Republic Raúl Castro Ruz
Presidente de la República de Cuba
La Habana, Cuba Fax: +41 22 758 9431
(Cuba Office in Geneva); +1 212 779 1697
(via Cuban Mission to UN) Email: cuba@un.int (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)
Twitter: @RaulCastroR
Salutation: Your Excellency

Attorney General Dr. Darío Delgado Cura
Fiscal General de la República
Fiscalía General de la República
Amistad 552, e/Monte y Estrella Centro Habana,
La Habana, Cuba
Email: relaciones@fgr.cu
Twitter: @FGR_Cuba
Salutation: Dear Attorney General

Minister of Justice María Esther Reus
Ministerio de Justicia Calle O # 216 E/ 23 y 25 Vdo.
Plaza de la Revolución
La Habana, Cuba
Twitter: @CubaMinjus
Salutation: Dear Minister

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below: Name Address 1 Address 2 Address 3 Fax Fax number Email Email address Salutation Salutation

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date. This is the second update of UA 32/17. Further information: www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr25/5979/2017/en/

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

According to five witnesses who spoke to Amnesty International by telephone on the condition of anonymity, Eduardo Cardet was pushed off his bicycle and violently detained in the early evening of 30 November 2016 by at least four plain clothed and one uniformed police officer as he returned home after visiting his mother. It is not clear on what grounds Eduardo Cardet was initially detained.

According to his wife, who witnessed her husband’s detention with their two children, Eduardo Cardet is charged with attacking an official of the state (atentado). This offence is covered under Article 142.1 of the Criminal Code. One officer is alleging that Eduardo Cardet pushed him during his arrest. All witnesses who spoke with Amnesty International counter this allegation, and state that Eduardo Cardet was quickly and violently restrained by plain clothed officials, placed in handcuffs, and beaten, and had no opportunity for self-defence. The witnesses believe that Eduardo Cardet was arrested for his beliefs and ideas. Amnesty International was able to review a copy of the sentence at appeal emitted by the provincial court of Holguin. The sentence makes no mention of the original grounds for the arrest, suggesting the arrest was arbitrary.

The Christian Liberation Movement (Movimento Cristiano Liberación, MCL) is a prominent actor in the pro-democracy movement in Cuba. According to its website, it is a movement for peaceful and democratic change and respect for human dignity. It was founded in 1988 by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who became a visible figure of the Cuban political opposition, and four other activists. Amnesty International has documented harassment and intimidation of members of the MCL for decades. In 1991, after Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas presented a petition calling for a national referendum relating to constitutional reform, he had his home destroyed by over 200 people, said to be members of a Rapid Response Brigade. After Oswaldo Payá announced his intention to put himself forward as a candidate for deputy to the National Assembly for the municipality of Cerro, Havana, members of his organization were reportedly subjected to frequent questioning and short-term detention.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a Cuban-based human rights NGO not recognized by the state, documented a monthly average of 827 politically motivated detentions in 2016. In an interview published on 16 September 2016 by ABC International, Eduardo Cardet stated: “Political activities are passed off as criminal offences such as inciting public scandal, contempt of or offences against the authorities, and the political police use these classifications to lock up dissidents" (Se disfraza la actividad política con hechos delictivos comunes, por ejemplo, escándalo público, desacato, atentado, figuras que utiliza la policía política para encarcelar a los disidentes).

Cuba is closed to Amnesty International and nearly all independent international human rights monitors.

Name: Dr Eduardo Cardet Concepción Gender m/f: m
Further information on UA: 32/17 Index: AMR 25/6363/2017 Issue Date: 25 May 2017

En castellano


















Tuesday, May 23, 2017

2017 Oslo Freedom Forum: Honoring Vaclav Havel

"Human rights are universal and indivisible. Human freedom is also indivisible: if it is denied to anyone in the world, it is therefore denied, indirectly, to all people. This is why we cannot remain silent in the face of evil or violence; silence merely encourages them." - Vaclav Havel


The ninth edition of the Oslo Freedom Forum has been underway since May 22, 2017 and tomorrow on the last day the organizers will be presenting the 2017 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent at 10:00am CET the Oslo Nye Theater. Be sure to catch it live streamed below:


Human rights have been in retreat around the world over the past two decades and activists from around the globe need  to network, exchange information, and better coordinate joint actions and strategies to turn the tide.

Nevertheless, this requires questioning assumptions and the course taken over the past twenty five years in the human rights community.

Gatherings such as the Oslo Freedom Forum, Forum 2000 in Prague and the Geneva Summit for Human Rights are forums where this important conversation can and should take place.

This blog has served as a platform to discuss the crisis and possible solutions. It has also called on conservatives to recall their own roll in the development of the idea and language of human rights centuries before the French Revolution of 1789, its roots not in the Enlightenment but in the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, and the first recognition of universal human rights in the 15th century in the Salamanca school.

Let us take the long view back to inform the conversation on the present situation and future prospects.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Venezuelan general recorded advocating snipers against street demonstrators in Venezuela

 Murdering the future in Venezuela

Génesis Carmona: Shot in the head by a sniper on February 18, 2014
On May 18, 2017 The Miami Herald reported that it had a secret recording of a Venezuelan general advocating for the use of snipers against street demonstrators "in the future." The sad news is that this has been a practice long adopted by the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

Beginning on February 12, 2014 regime agents shot Bassil Alejandro Dacosta, age 24 in the head.  One of the young students who carried Bassil off  after he was shot was Robert Redman, age 28, who reported later that day over twitter: "Today I was hit with a rock in the back, a helmet in my nose. I swallowed tear-gas, Carried the kid who died, and what did you do?" That same day he was also gunned down by Maduro's colectivos, working in concert with his security forces, and murdered. The killings continued


A high profile killing that shocked the world was the murder of a local beauty queen. Génesis Carmona was just 22 years old and nonviolently expressing her desire for a better Venezuela when she was shot in the head on February 18, 2014 and died a day later on February 19, 2014. Three years have passed and those responsible for her murder have yet to be punished.

The nonviolent street demonstrations organized by university students have captured the imagination of most Venezuelans and the world in general. It has also drawn the rage of the Maduro regime and their Cuban advisors. They have responded by murdering children to terrorize the protesters.

Kluiverth Roa, age 14, shot in the head by BNP in Venezuela on February 24th
 The snipers have been busy at work over the past three years attempting to create a climate of terror. The bodies have piled up over the years and the pattern is clear and has been denounced by human rights organizations in Venezula and by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Venezuelan human rights organization, Provea, over twitter on February 25, 2015 reported on the killing of a 14-year old stating: "Killing of  Roa Kluiverth is not an isolated event, but is a consequence of the rise of repression in the country."


Paola Ramírez and Carlos Moreno both shot in the head on April 19, 2017 in Venezuela.
 We may be powerless to stop the killing but we must not stop denouncing the crimes against humanity being committed by the Maduro regime and work towards the day that those responsible be held accountable in a court of law. In the meantime let us remember those who have been killed, tragically their ranks continue to grow.

Some of the young Venezuelans shot in the head by Maduro's agents



Friday, May 19, 2017

Two Cubans fleeing the island picked up by the Coast Guard and will be returned to Cuba

Cubans are still fleeing the Castro regime despite the gutting of the Cuban Adjustment Act

Two Cuban fisherman "adrift" for three days rescued by the U.S. Coastguard
 The U.S. Coastguard was reporting that thanks to Obama curtailing the Cuban Adjustment Act there were no Cuban rafters picked up in April 2017 and claimed that Cubans were no longer fleeing to the United States. They may want to reconsider that statement.

On May 19, 2017 the headline read "2 Cuban fishermen rescued by Coast Guard after 3 days adrift at sea" and the article said they would be returned to Cuba.  I wonder if there will now be a pattern of "fishermen" adrift in boats or rafts needing "rescuing" and being returned to the Castro dictatorship?

I've said it before and repeat here now. Cubans do not leave their homeland seeking the American dream but fleeing the nightmare regime created by the Castro brothers that has been destroying lives for the past 58 years. The door has been closed, but Cubans will continue to flee tyranny. Only now they will be illegal immigrants in the United States subject to deportation.

The Obama Administration closed the door on Cuban refugees on January 12, 2017 on his way out of The White House. President Bill Clinton narrowed the door in 1995 with the invention of the "wet foot dry foot policy" that circumvented U.S. law and President Barack Obama slammed it shut  in 2017. On both occasions this was done in consultation with the Castro regime but not the U.S. Congress.

What goes unmentioned in the reporting is that the down tick in Cubans fleeing to the United States normally occurs during Republican administrations, who have taken a harder line on the Castro dictatorship. This pattern was repeated with Reagan, Bush 41, Bush 43 and may now be occurring with the Trump presidency.

On the eve of Cuban independence and on the anniversary of the death of Jose Marti it is a shame that free Cubans still choose to risk their lives in the Florida Straits where many have died to escape a cruel dictatorship that has spent 58 years denying liberty to Cubans and rewriting the island's past to avoid condemnation for their dismal record..




Thursday, May 18, 2017

Totalitarian repression on the march in Cuba: Claiming new victims and martyrs

Old patterns of repression continue to ensnare new generations 

Clockwise: Harold Cepero, Sayli Navarro, David Mauri, Fếlix Yuniel, Karla Pérez,
Cuban students are expelled from school for refusing to repeat the old tired cliches of the revolution. 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 on April 15th. 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.

This is not a new tactic. Expelling students and denying them an education for their political orientation has a long and shameful history, too often ignored. Sayli Navarro was expelled from her university in Matanzas for her political views in 2009. On  November 13, 2002 Harold Cepero Escalante and Yoan Columbié Rodriguez,  students in their fourth year of Veterinary Medicine, were expelled from the University of Camagüey and subjected to an act of repudiation after having signed a legal petition for human rights reforms called the Varela Project. This practice is not new. Fidel Castro declared in June of 1961 that outside of the revolution there are no rights. The regime also declared that universities are for revolutionaries.


Prisoner of conscience Eduardo Cardet serving unjust three year prison sentence
It does not end with school. Even professionals who dissent that have life giving skills are imprisoned and not allowed to practice their profession. A medical doctor, Eduardo Cardet, has been jailed since November 30, 2016 for speaking critically about Fidel Castro's legacy in Cuba. There is no independent judiciary in Cuba and the puppet court according to his attorney has affirmed Eduardo's three year prison sentence.  No more appeals.

Pastor Ramon Rigal (on the right) serving a year in prison for homeschooling his kids.
In Cuba not only are students expelled from school for refusing to tow the official line, but parents are jailed for trying to home school. Pastor Ramon Rigal was sentenced on April 25, 2017 to one year in prison for the "crime" of homeschooling his own kids.

Peaceful dissent, and self-expression do not only invite expulsion from school and prison but can lead to an untimely death. Harold Cepero, the 2002 expelled veterinary student, was murdered along with Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, the founding leader of the Christian Liberation Movement,  on July 22, 2012. Less than ten years after his expulsion.

This is Cuba today a totalitarian nightmare that many still try to flee and a few remain to courageously resist. There is nothing romantic about a 58 year old repressive dictatorship.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Project Varela: Looking back at the nonviolent campaign 15 years later

The nonviolent campaign that shook up the dictatorship in Cuba, changed the Cuban Communist Constitution and continues to haunt the Castro regime.



15 years ago today, carrying 11,020 signed petitions in support of the Varela Project, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and  Regis Iglesias Ramírez walked with the bulky card board boxes labeled Project Varela turning them into the Cuban National Assembly. The New York Times reported on this historic event:
"Two days before a historic visit to Cuba by the former President Jimmy Carter, human rights activists today delivered an extraordinary challenge to the Communist government of President Fidel Castro in the form of petitions signed by more than 11,000 people seeking greater freedom. The petition drive, known as the Varela Project, calls for a referendum under the terms of the Cuban Constitution on whether there should be more freedom of expression, an amnesty for political prisoners and a chance for ordinary citizens to own small businesses. The signed petitions were delivered this morning to the National Assembly, after supporters painstakingly verified each signature, in the most significant peaceful effort to bring reform to Cuba in four decades. ''All of these Cubans, who with great courage and sacrifice have signed Project Varela, are the social vanguard for peaceful change in Cuba,'' said Oswaldo Paya, who led the drive. He said changes in the rights of Cubans could only be achieved peacefully.
The three activists, members of the Christian Liberation Movement, would pay a high price, along with dozens of others, for advocating human rights reforms within the existing legal frame work in Cuba. In March of 2003 both Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and Regis Iglesias were arrested and subjected to political show trials and sentenced to long prison sentences. They would spend years in prison followed by forced exile. Oswaldo Payá was killed on July 22, 2012 under circumstances that point to a state security orchestrated extrajudicial execution.

Father Felix Varela

The Varela Project, named after the Cuban Catholic Priest Felix Varela, sought to reform the Cuban legal system to bring it in line with international human rights standards. They had followed the letter of the law in organizing the campaign and yet the dictatorship's response to a nonviolent citizen's initiative was to first coerce Cubans into signing another petition declaring the Constitution unchangeable and quickly passed it through the rubber stamp legislature without debating the Varela Project, which according to the Cuban law drafted by the dictatorship meant that it should have been debated by the National Assembly.

Oswaldo Payá Antonio Diaz, and Regis Iglesias after turning in signatures

Ten months later on March 18, 2003 the Black Cuban Spring would begin with a massive crackdown on Cuba's civil society with many of the organizers of Project Varela, imprisoned and summarily sentenced up to 28 years in prison. The 75 activists who had been imprisoned with long prison sentences became known as the "group of the 75."

The dictatorship announced, at the time, that the Cuban dissident movement had been destroyed but the Castro regime was mistaken. First, the remaining activists who were still free continued gathering signatures and would turn in another 14,384 petition signatures on October 5, 2003. Secondly, the wives, sisters and daughters of the activists who had been detained and imprisoned organized themselves into the "Ladies in White." A movement that sought the freedom of their loved ones and organized regular marches through the streets of Cuba, despite regime organized violence visited upon them.

Regis Iglesias with Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia
The Economist in its December 14, 2005 issue published a conversation with Oswaldo Paya titled "An unsilenced voice for change" that outlined what had taken place:

Between 2001 and 2004, Mr Payá's movement gathered 25,000 signatures in a vain attempt to persuade Cuba's National Assembly to change the constitution to allow multi-party democracy. Activists of his Christian Liberation Movement made up more than two-thirds of the 75 dissidents and journalists rounded up and jailed for long terms in April 2003. [...] Spain is “complaisant” with Mr Castro's regime, Mr Payá says. “We need a campaign of support and solidarity with peaceful change in Cuba” of the kind that brought an end to apartheid in South Africa and to the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.
It took over eight years, but the last of the group of the 75 were eventually released. Many were driven into exile but  a core group remain in Cuba and are still defiant. One  of the Project Varela leaders still active and mobilizing large numbers today is Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, but others  lost their lives defending human rights and dignity who had also gathered signatures for the Varela Project, such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Project Varela petitions delivered in 2002, 2003 and 2016

Project Varela lives and on March 24, 2016 another 10,000 signatures were turned into the National Assembly bringing the total number of petitions signed in Cuba to 35,404. 

Today in Madrid Cardinal Jaime Ortega was asked about when Regis Iglesias Ramírez would be able to return to Cuba and responded that "Of course, but the regime will not allow Regis to return to organize the Christian Liberation Movement ... For that I do not think they will let him return." Since July of 2012 Regis has been officially requesting to return to Cuba and been denied the right to return to his homeland.  Cardinal Ortega also made no mention that the current National Coordinator, Eduardo Cardet is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience jailed since November 30, 2016 for criticizing Fidel Castro's legacy.

Over Facebook Antonio Diaz Sanchez wrote: "We do not want to let this day go by, without making it clear to the world that even with our sadness remembering our brothers vilely murdered and with constant concern for our political prisoners today in jail we hold, by virtue of our loyalty to our heroes, out of respect for our prisoners, for the love of our country and all Cubans, our clear will to continue working civically and nonviolently to recover for the people of Cuba their legitimate right to sovereignty."

Fifteen years later the Coordinating Council of the Christian Liberation Movement issued a statement to all those who signed the petitioned turned in on May 10, 2002 concluding:
Today, wherever they may be, we want to congratulate our 11,020 compatriots who, on May 10, 2002, demanded the regime respect all the rights for all Cubans, with their name, address, identification number and signature supporting the Plebiscite of the Varela Project. They are the true heroes. Thanks to their generosity, their courage, their commitment, at that moment we were all free. Long live Oswaldo and Harold! Freedom for Eduardo Cardet and all political prisoners! Viva the Varela Project!
Cubans have demonstrated not only their desire for human rights and freedom but the persistence and courage to back it up with civic action despite the high price they've paid.
 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Cuban dissident beaten to death by Castro's political police died six years ago today

The hope of impunity is the greatest inducement to do wrong. - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia died three days after beating by political police
 
Six years ago the headlines circled the world in English and in Spanish covered by Reuters, the BBC, CNN, AFP, AP, EFE that a Cuban dissident and former political prisoner, Juan Wilfredo Soto (age 46) had been beaten and arrested by Cuban regime police on Thursday, May 5, 2011 while protesting the dictatorship and died early on Sunday May 8, 2011. The beating had been so bad that he required hospitalization. He was buried Sunday, on Mother's Day.

There are others but the regime has been often successful in intimidating family members and destroying the evidence of their crimes. "This act of police violence is not an isolated case. Each day in Cuba those in uniform respect less the citizens," said Yoani Sanchez over Twitter on the day of the burial.

According to dissidents who attended and media accounts more than 80 attended Juan Wilfredo Soto's funeral despite a heavy police presence and state security operation that blocked some activists from attending. The government agents responsible for this man's extra-judicial death must be held accountable if not by national laws then by international law.  At the funeral a Cuban pastor spoke about the life of the Cuban activist and the circumstances surrounding his death.


Juan Wilfredo Soto left behind two children and their mom. He was a member of the Opposition Central Coalition and was known as "The Student." He was a former political prisoner who had served 12 years in prison. His mother, who suffers from a bad hip, buried her son on Mother's Day. Pictures of Juan Wilfredo Soto's family members provided by Yoani Sanchez through twitter.

Children of Juan Wilfredo Soto mourn their dad
 Six years have passed and justice has not been done in this case. Nevertheless we must remember, and with this exercise of memory continue to demand justice for Juan Wilfredo and his loved ones.


Rosa Maria Paya returned to Cuba today, May 8, 2017 under a climate of repression

Alert: arrest of Cuba Decide coordinators prior to the arrival of Rosa Maria Paya in Havana Cuba. 

Rosa Maria Payá on her way to Havana this morning.
Today May 8, 2017, Cuba Decide's coordinators: Sayli Navarro, Iván Hernández Carrillo and Félix Navarro Rodríguez had been arrested by police security agents and police. Arbitrary arrests occurred early in the morning as they headed to the Jose Marti International Airport to welcome the Cuban Decide promoter Rosa Maria Payá.
Rosa Maria returned to Havana as part of her work for the campaign which aims to bring about the Binding Plebiscite.  The people arrested include: Sayli Navarro and her father Felix Navarro at 5:30am in Perico, Matanzas and Iván Hernández Carrillo at 5:00am in Colon, Matanzas.

They were on their way to Havana to wait at the airport for the arrival of Rosa Maria Payá in order to work on Cuba Decide. Before the news of the recent arrests and in what appears to be an offensive against the organizers of Cuba Decide. 

Rosa Maria still decided to continue her trip and landed in Havana today at 10:45 am and was subjected to a thorough search and interrogation before being allowed to leave the airport.

At 12:40pm Sayli Navarro reported over twitter that she and her dad had just been freed, but that Iván was still being held.

Iván Hernández Carrillo tweeted at 5:09pm that he had been held in detention for nine hours beginning at 4:30am at the police headquarters in  Colón, Matanzas. In a second tweet at 5:10pm Ivan reported that Félix Navarro and his daughter Sayli were arrested in Perico, Matanzas at 5:15am and freed seven hours later at 12:20pm.

Please follow them on social media for future updates: @RosaMariaPaya @SayliNavarro @felixncuba @ivanlibre


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cuba's role in the crisis in Venezuela and how it can also hurt Americans

Venezuela in crisis

Venezuelan women march on May 6, 2017 against repression in Cuba
Protests across Venezuela continue
Thousands of Venezuelan women, dressed in white, marched through the streets of Venezuela on Saturday denouncing repression by security forces. Some of the women flashed their breasts waving posters that read: "We have no firearms, just breasts." Young Venezuelans continue to be shot in the head by paramilitary groups working together with the police and national guard. Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado pleaded: "We beg the armed forces: don't open fire on unarmed people."

Young Venezuelans peacefully demonstrating the Maduro regime continue to be shot in the head and killed some victims from over the past month are: Hecder Lugo (age 20), Miguel Medina (age 20), Jairo Otriz (age 19)  Carlos Moreno (age 17) and although not shot in the head, but in the throat, was 18 year old violinist, Armando Cañizales. This last death led the Venezuelan director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel,  to say "It is time to listen to the people: Enough is enough.”  There is a long list of Venezuelan youth murdered by the Maduro regime.   

Where is Leopoldo?
Venezuelan prisoner of conscience Leopoldo López Mendoza has not been seen in a month. Rumors are circulating that he has been murdered. Considering that the same Cubans who are advising Maduro also murdered an international human rights figure like Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, the fears for Leopoldo's well-being are not unwarranted.

Nicolas Maduro with his rubber stamp Supreme Court
Venezuela's downward spiral into totalitarianism continues with the Nicolas Maduro regime ramping up control and repression causing millions of Venezuelans to resist it then pause for a while until the protests die down and then begin again. The latest round began on March 30, 2017, the Maduro controlled Supreme Court stripped the National Assembly of its powers provoking the latest round of mass protests in Venezuela and international condemnation. President Maduro, following the escalating protests, called on the Supreme Court to reverse itself and they did. However at the same time Nicolas Maduro announced the activation of the green phase of Plan Zamora reported by Caracas Chronicles as:
an exercise of “integral anti-imperialist action (…) meant to strengthen the national deployment of civilian-military union to defend the nation.” The description’s made worse by the threats made by several regime members since Monday, concerning the plan to align all of their paramilitary groups – colectivos – and PSUV’s fighting corps towards the same goal of “defense”.
Cuban role in the rise of Chavism
In addition to domestic repressive forces there is a foreign presence heavily embedded in the Venezuelan military and intelligence services. Last year the head of the opposition National Assembly of Venezuela on May 15, 2016 was complaining, over social media, of the presence of 60 Cuban officers. This included a Cuban general, who he identified by the last name Gregorich, who had a leadership role that included issuing orders to Venezuelan troops. Capitol Hill Cubans identified the Cuban General as Raul Acosta Gregorich. 

Castro regime's number three man, Ramiro Valdez with Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro
It is also surprising that when reviewing Cuban involvement in Venezuela that the February 2010  hiring of Ramiro Valdes, then age 77, "as a consultant for that country's energy crisis" did not raise more eyebrows. He is viewed by some Cuba experts as "the No. 3 man in the Cuban hierarchy." Afro-Cuban scholar Carlos Moore offers the following background information on Commander Valdez :
"Ramiro Valdez was an inflexible, totalitarian and brutal person. He was the most feared man in Cuba. The repressive policies of the regime were crafted by him. Valdez struck fear into the hearts of Cubans (even revolutionary ones). Today, he apparently continues to be the same dogmatic, sectarian and brutal person he was at the height of his power."
The Castro regime's interest in Venezuela began from the earliest days of the dictatorship. Venezuelans understood the threat poised by the Cubans by 1960 when Ernesto "Che" Guevara was giving unsolicited advice to Rómulo Betancourt, the democratically elected president of Venezuela. Guevara called for Betancourt to use the firing squad against his "rightist opponents." In 1963 Congressional Quarterly reported on how:
"Riots led by Communists and other pro-Castro elements in Caracas [in the autumn of 1960] took the lives of 13 persons and injured 100. Venezuela recalled its ambassador to Cuba, and Betancourt ordered out the army to end the rioting, which he termed an attempt to “install a regime similar to that in Cuba.”
Cuban Communist leader Blas Roca, told a Havana rally on January 23, 1963 that when the communists gained full control and “make themselves owners of the great riches in oil, aluminum and everything their earth imprisons, then all of America shall burn.”  A cache of three tons of weapons was found on a Venezuelan beach in November 1963 that was to be used to disrupt the democratic elections there.

Fidel Castro meeting with President-elect Rómulo Betancourt in 1959
Fidel Castro would continue to agitate for revolution in Venezuela. A well documented incident occurred on May 8, 1967 and was reported by Francisco Toro in The Washington Post who described how: "two small boats carrying a dozen heavily armed fighters made landfall near Machurucuto, a tiny fishing village 100 miles east of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. Their plan was to march inland and recruit Venezuelan peasants to the cause of socialist revolution." An all night gun battle with the Venezuelan military led to nine guerrillas dead, two captured, and one who had escaped.

The Castro regime's efforts would not begin to bear fruit until December 1994 with the arrival of Hugo Chavez in Havana to a hero's welcome following two years in prison for a coup attempt in Venezuela. Four years later Chavez had won the presidency of Venezuela and the Castro regime finally had its entry to Venezuela.  By 2007, Chávez had declared that Cuba and Venezuela were a single nation. “Deep down,” he said, “we are one single government.”  When Hugo Chavez died in 2013 the succession to Nicolas Maduro was planned in Havana.

 Diosdado Cabello target of the DEA with General Raul Castro and his Foreign Minister

Consequences of Cubazuela
The name of this "single nation" is Cubazuela and is a term that has been used by mainstream press publications such as The Wall Street Journal. The consequences to the people of Venezuela are well known. Violence has escalated during the Chavez-Maduro era to levels never seen before. There is widespread hunger now in Venezuela. Civil liberties and the rule of law are rapidly disappearing.

What is not generally known are the consequences for the United States and the role the Castro regime plays in this. There are numerous news reports about the Venezuelan regime's links to international drug trafficking, and that U.S. investigations point to high ranking  officials in Venezuela turning the country "into a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering," but little is said about the Castro regime's decades long involvement in it that still continues.  Panamanian police seized more than 400 kilograms of cocaine in a Cuban ship on its way to Belgium in April of 2016.

Cuba was placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism on March 1, 1982, less than three months after the US State Department confirmed that the Cuban government was using a narcotics ring to funnel both arms and cash to the Colombian M19 terrorist group then battling to overthrow Colombia’s democratic government.

In a 1991 Frontline documentary, Cuba and Cocaine, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Jeff Karonis, stated, "We would observe in the middle of the day an air drop going on inside Cuban waters. The scenario would be for a small twin-engine airplane with maybe 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of cocaine to fly over Cuba, drop the drugs to a predesignated rendezvous point to several boats. Then it would exit back down off Cuba, and many times a Cuban military vessel would be in the immediate vicinity, right on scene with them.''

Venezuela: Global hub of drug trafficking
Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post reported on the Venezuela, FARC, Cuba trafficking axis on May 24, 2015 in the article "A drug cartel’s power in Venezuela":

Ever since Colombian commandos captured the laptop of a leader of the FARC organization eight years ago, it’s been known that Chávez gave the Colombian narcoguerrillas sanctuary and allowed them to traffic cocaine from Venezuela to the United States with the help of the Venezuelan army. But not until a former Chávez bodyguard [ Leamsy Salazar] defected to the United States in January did the scale of what is called the “Cartel of the Suns ” start to become publicly known. [...] The day after Salazar’s arrival in Washington, Spain’s ABC newspaper published a detailed account of the emerging case against Cabello, and last month, ABC reporter Emili Blasco followed up with a book laying out the allegations of Salazar and other defectors, who say Cuba’s communist regime and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah have been cut in on the trafficking. That was followed by a lengthy report last week in the Wall Street Journal that said Cabello’s cartel had turned Venezuela into “a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering.”
Wikileaks revealed that American diplomats also know that the Castro regime provides safe haven for the FARC in Cuba. Considering the close working relationship between Cuban and Venezuelan officials and the rampant drug trafficking and money laundering in Venezuela the claim that officials of the Castro regime are not involved seems highly unlikely. Furthermore in confronting the problem of rising levels of drugs flooding the United States, U.S. officials should re-visit sharing drug intelligence with the Castro regime.

Outlaw regimes in Venezuela also allied with Cuba

North Korea
"Our government, our people, our party, in addition to condemning any imperialist attack, will fight with Venezuelans to safeguard the Bolivarian Revolution" - North Korean Ambassador Jon Yong Jin, 10/3/13 

A report appeared on May 18, 2016 that North Korean Special forces and the Chinese People's Liberation Army are in Venezuela conducting military exercises with their Venezuelan counterpart. 

In March 2016, the same month that President Obama visited Cuba, the Castro regime signed a confidential military cooperation and intelligence-sharing agreement with North Korea reports the Paris based publication Intelligence Online. The Cuban dictatorship, under Raul Castro, has had extensive relations with the Hermit Kingdom that has included violating international sanctions to smuggle tons of weapons.

North Korea reopened an embassy in Venezuela on June 20, 2014 following a high level meeting in October 2013 with North Korea's ambassador to Cuba Jon Yong Jin who was executed in a purge in December of 2013.  Venezuela recognized North Korea in 1974 but due to North Korea's economic crisis in the 1990s it shut down its embassy in Venezuela at the time.  Venezuelan officials who met with the North Korean diplomat showed an interest in grafting elements of the North Korean governing philosophy onto the Bolivarian Revolution.

The official claim by the Maduro regime is that all this is being done to combat the threat of U.S. imperialism, but the reality appears that this has more to do with maintaining and consolidating control over Venezuela. 

Iran
"I've visited Iran more than 20 times, I deeply know the good nature, the good, deep spirit of the Iranian people and I love it. I love Iran as much as I love our Commander Chavez.” - Nicolas Maduro, August 30, 2016

Fox News reported on April 17, 2017 of a serious security threat for the United States:
A former director of Venezuela’s Office of Identification, Migration and Foreigners said that during his 17 months in the post, the socialist government gave at least 10,000 Venezuelan passports and other documents to citizens of Syria, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries.
In an interview with El Nuevo Herald, Colonel Vladimir Medrano Rengifo said the operation was headed by current Vice President Tareck El Aissami.
He said most passports and visas were granted in the Venezuelan Consulate in Damascus, Syria’s capital.
"Today we don’t know where these people are, nor what they are doing,” said Medrano, who currently resides in the United States.
 The crisis in Venezuela is having tragic consequences for Venezuelans and, with the rising levels of drugs entering the United States, also for Americans. However the relations with outlaw states points to more ominous dangers that need to be taken into account. Lastly ignoring the role played by Cuba is a mistake.