Cuba insists change ‘not negotiable’

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson had breakfast with dissidents on Friday after a day of talks with the regime focused on restoring diplomatic relations

Asked whether Cuba might at least examine how to expand freedoms to help the Obama administration with Congress, the communist regime’s lead negotiator Josefina Vidal said, “Absolutely no.”

“Change in Cuba isn’t negotiable,” she insisted.

The role to be played by civil-society activists and the political opposition in this new scenario will depend on their ability to adapt to a new context and evolve, by looking for new ways of self-management and by basing the survival or success of their projects in terms of the support achieved by citizens, within or outside Cuba, notes Eliécer Ávila, a founder of SOMOS+ and a member of the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum.

A more open political game can largely benefit civil society, if it does not waste time crying over what is already a reality and rather decide to “turn on their batteries” to take benefit from the possible advantages that can arise from these new winds of change, she writes for The Huffington Post.

Other civil society activists want the U.S. to be more aggressive in holding the regime to account for its human rights violations.

Administration officials must demand free elections and accountability for murdered activists, democracy advocate Rosa Maria Paya writes for The PanAm Post.  Payá is the daughter of the late democracy leader Oswaldo Payá, who, along with Harold Cepero, was killed in an automobile accident on July 22, 2012 in Bayamo, Cuba. She addressed a Washington conference on human rights last Friday alongside other Cuba democracy advocates, including Frank Calzon of the Center for  Free Cuba (above).

U.S. tech companies see a potential windfall in the Obama administration’s decision to ease trade restrictions with Cuba, Julian Hattem reports for The Hill:

In 2013, just 26 percent of the country used the Internet, according to the International Telecommunications Union, an agency of the United Nations — but most of them could merely access a walled-off network of largely Cuban websites and services. The portion of Cubans who have actual unfettered access to the true, global Internet is estimated to be closer to 5 percent.

“Cuba remains one of the most heavily restricted environments for Internet use in the world, and it has been that way for quite some time,” said Laura Reed, a research analyst at Freedom House, a pro-democracy organization.


Why Ukraine Matters

ukraine euromaidan


The Maidan uprising was not only a momentous historical event but also a profoundly democratic one, with the protesters embracing a concept of citizenship involving individual responsibility to uphold democratic values and to serve the larger community, notes Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy

Ukraine took another step toward democracy more recently on October 26th when it held parliamentary elections. One of the most significant things that happened in the elections was that civil society activists, journalists, and other leaders from the Maidan entered politics for the first time, he writes for World Affairs:

Their decision to run for Parliament was not an easy one because politics and politicians have such a bad reputation in Ukraine—for good reason, since the way it has been practiced until now has made it a dirty business. But they knew that they could not defend the revolution and achieve the radical reforms contained in the Reanimation Reforms Package—a reform initiative by more than fifty NGOs, three hundred and fifty experts, and twenty-two working groups—if they did not make the jump from civic activism to politics and seek a role in the governance of the country. This is something that the protesters in Egypt’s Tahrir Square could not do, which is why in the end Egypt’s revolution fared so badly. And so it’s very encouraging that activists like the journalist Mustafa Nayyem (whose Facebook post launched the Maidan protests), the investigative journalist Serhiy Leshchenko, and the ecology advocate and journalist Hanna Hopko (right) ukr hopkomade the difficult decision to move from protest to politics.

“The strategic goal for people who want to see a more peaceful and democratic world is a Russia that, like Ukraine, wants to be democratic and a part of Europe,” Gershman contends. ‘Right now such a scenario seems very unlikely. But if Ukraine succeeds, there is the possibility for a better outcome. That is why Ukraine’s struggle for democracy, independence, and territorial integrity has consequences for the whole world.”


Cuba: civil society’s ‘new wiggle space’ – four conditions for US reset

cuba posibleThe United States and Cuba began historic talks Thursday, aimed at ending more than five decades of official estrangement, The Washington Post reports:

Despite somewhat stony exteriors as the official sessions began, the delegation heads, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and Josefina Vidal, head of the Americas department of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, were said to have made initial progress in breaking the ice ……Jacobson plans to hold a breakfast for Cuban civil society representatives, human rights activists and political dissidents Friday before her departure.

Jacobson said re-establishing diplomatic ties and opening embassies in Havana and Washington were “not overly cumbersome,” but that the two sides had profound differences on other issues, such as Cuba’s human rights record, Reuters adds.

The Presidents of the United States and Cuba have laid the groundwork that will allow “Cuba’s situation to improve,” said Yoani Sanchez, a prominent dissident blogger and director of the Internet portal “We now have to use this new wiggle space.”CUBA DEPEISTRE

Raul Castro has warned that he does not consider this new era of detente an opening for significantly altering Cuba’s communist system, one-party rule or economy, which is largely controlled by the state, the LA Times reports.

“Raul Castro will try to gain the most while giving up the least,” Jose Daniel Ferrer, a leading dissident who opposes the regime but welcomes rapprochement, said in an interview.

Cuban officials are hanging tight to their managed economy and will do their best to control any transition, analysts suggest.

“As Roberta Jacobson begins historic talks with Cuban officials, the first of their kind in over 30 years, it is essential to keep progress on democratic reform and respect for human rights at the top of the agenda,” said Robert Herman, vice president for regional programs at Freedom House. Ms. Jacobson and her delegation should “raise concerns over recent crackdowns on universal human rights, including freedom of expression, and engage in meaningful conversation with members of Cuban civil society and dissidents, who will be instrumental in balancing discourse while diplomatic relations are being restored.”

Totalitarian regime

cuba foranothercubalogoindexCuba is home to the longest-standing totalitarian regime in the Western Hemisphere, said the University of Delaware’s Maria P. Aristigueta, who recently presented a talk on “The Role of Civil Society in Leading Change in Cuba.”

Civil society groups in Cuba are cautiously optimistic about the change in U.S. policy, she said, drawing on her research conducted through a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) grant in 2007. But they want to ensure that four main conditions are met prior to the U.S. re-establishing diplomatic relations with the country, she said:

  • Political prisoners need to be released immediately. Elizardo Sánchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation estimates there are still more than 100 people imprisoned.
  • Cuba must ratify the United Nations human rights covenants.
  • All “apparatus of repression” must be dismantled, including assaults on “counterrevolutionaries,” arbitrary arrests, demonization and intimidation of those who think differently, and police surveillance of activists.
  • The Cuban government must accept the existence of civic structures that have the right to express opinions, decide, question, and choose. These voices that have not been represented in the current negotiations between the governments of Cuba and the U.S.

[T]he biggest prize [of the policy shift] should be the advance of democracy and open markets in Latin America, The Economist says:

The Castros are not the only ones who will be discomfited by the loss of the American alibi. Venezuela leads a loose coalition of countries that uses defiance of the United States as an excuse for policies that stunt economic growth and democratic rights. It has long supported Cuba (and other Caribbean countries) with sales of oil at heavily subsidised prices. Even for robustly democratic countries like Brazil, the American bogeyman makes it easier to justify resistance to trade deals and to cosy up to uglier regimes.

Gradualism rather than revolution is what Cuba needs, according to Harvard analyst Noah Feldman:

Of course human rights abuses should be reversed and free expression expanded. That’s why the freeing of political prisoners is a positive step. But when it comes to Cuba’s economic development, slow progress is preferable to radical transformation. The same is true of political evolution; moving too fast might not produce greater freedom, but actually the opposite.

Cuba is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2014, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2014 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2014

Former political prisoner in Tibet overcomes the odds

When Tsultrim Dolma, a cheerful middle-aged woman from Tibet now living in Amherst, finished retelling her story the small classroom fell silent, Brendan Deady reports:

Dolma was born in a small village in Eastern Tibet in 1968, not long after the Dalai Lama signed the 17-Point Plan for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet that granted China sovereignty over Tibet, according to the Council of Foreign Relations. Many Tibetans believe the Chinese government coerced the Dalai Lama, currently in exile in India, into the agreement. In the decades following the Tibetan annexation, China outlawed demonstrations of Tibetan culture and public support for an independent Tibet. According to Dolma, government officials controlled almost every aspect of their lives.

“I remember that all the adults were always afraid. I would ask about the ruins of temples that the Chinese destroyed and the elders of the village would hit me,” she recalled. “They feared they would disappear into prisons or be killed if they were heard talking about the past.” RTWT

china tibet rfa TIBET_-_0121_-_Miniere_e_proteste_(F)China has begun railway construction towards a disputed Indian border, VOA reports:

Tibet People’s Daily said the railway from Lhasa to Nyingtri would boost local economic and social development and that “it has important significance in the unification of nationalities.” China claims Arunachal Pradesh is part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). Experts say this project is doomed to raise Indian security concerns.

Chinese mining operations in a Tibetan-populated region of Qinghai province are wrecking the environment, with mountains stripped bare and waterways polluted by runoff from the mines, sources told Radio Free Asia.

Is there a recipe for success in advocating for Tibet at an international level?

Following Deng Xiaoping’s overture to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1979, both the Tibetan and Chinese leadership made serious efforts to resolve the Tibet issue through direct contact, writes Lodi Gyari:

During this period, His Holiness sent several fact-finding missions to various regions of Tibet and in 1982 and 1984, he sent some of us as his emissaries to begin exploratory talks with the Chinese leadership. By the mid-1980s, however, it became clear that these direct efforts were not producing results.

After lengthy deliberations, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leadership made the decision to reach out to the Chinese leadership by other means – by creating international awareness of Tibet and by seeking the support of global leaders for our effort to begin substantive dialogue. The Chinese leadership was becoming more sensitive to international opinion and was aggressively courting Western nations to help realize their ambitious plan to modernize the Chinese economy. This gave the international community an unprecedented opportunity to help move forward the issue of Tibet.

tibetweibo-banner-threeWhen asked to share the recipe for his success in advocating for the Tibet cause at an international level, he gave a three-fold response:

First, I have a passionate belief in the cause of the Tibetan people and an unwavering commitment to serve under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Second, I have sought out colleagues and associates who are wiser and more capable than myself—individuals who are willing to think creatively and not simply agree with everything I say. The team we assembled has brought unparalleled intelligence, talent and commitment to our efforts, and through vigorous intellectual discourse they have contributed unique insights and perspectives to our cause. Finally, I have never been afraid to seek help, and I have been able to establish relationships of trust with people who have the power to assist us in our efforts. RTWT

At his Culturally Curious blog, Matt Adler talks to Columbia University’s Robert Barnett about the complexities of Tibetan language and its situation in China. Both dialects and policies, Barnett points out, vary more than is often recognized, China Digital Times adds:

Today, in the post-Mao era, the language of state mouthpieces like the newspapers, television, radio and official texts (including history texts) is still locked in the Leninist era from 35 years ago – to read an official Tibetan newspaper day after day, with its wooden terminology and endless praise of the state, is a mind-numbing experience. And China’s education policies in Lhasa and the Tibet Autonomous Region are very damaging for Tibetan language: all middle schools there (unlike Qinghai) are required to use Chinese as the teaching medium. This is starting to happen in kindergartens now too. So a lot depends on whether the Qinghai or the Lhasa model of education is adopted in the future. [Source]

Earlier this month, Xinhua noted the publication of a new encyclopedic Tibetan dictionary, arguing that the introduction of terms for “WeChat,” “broadband,” and “robot,” as well as “lightning marriage,” “new normal,” and “Silk Road economic belt,” show that Tibetan language is flourishing:

[…] “The dictionary is getting thicker, more professional and encyclopedic, which is strong proof of Tibet’s cultural development,” said Wangchug, 69, a Tibetan language translator. [Source]

The state news agency also reported that Han officials in the Tibetan Autonomous Region will now be required to “master” Tibetan, following Xi Jinping’s declaration last September that “one cannot serve the local people well if one cannot speak the local language.”

Read more on Tibetan language, and more from Robert Barnett, via CDT.

DRC extends internet blockage after protesters killed

drc proestsThe government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has imposed an Internet blackout on the country for a third straight day as protesters kept up pressure on President Joseph Kabila, Nicholas Bariyo reports for The Wall Street Journal:

The government late Monday ordered telecommunications companies to sever all Internet and short-message services, after antigovernment protests spread from the capital Kinshasa to the restive eastern Kivu provinces. 

The DRC Senate announced a one-day delay for its vote on a proposed electoral law that has sparked days of violent protests. Senators now say they will vote Friday on the bill, which would require completion of a national census before a presidential election can be held, VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports:

Meanwhile, rights groups say dozens of people have been killed this week during protests in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The protesters object to a proposed new law that critics say would extend the rule of President Joseph Kabila. The Senate is expected to vote Thursday on the legislation, raising concerns of renewed violence.

The International Federation for Human Rights says at least 42 people have been killed in clashes with security forces in Kinshasa since Monday, when demonstrations erupted against the proposed electoral law.

drc voixThe BBC’s Maud Jullien in the capital, Kinshasa, says mobile internet and text services have been cut although fixed-line internet connections have been restored.

A consortium of human rights and civil society groups, including partners of the National Endowment for Democracy, condemned the killings and expressed anxiety that a major crackdown was imminent.

One of the country’s leading NGOs, the Voice of the Voiceless for Human Rights (VSV), cited fears of “a manhunt against the actors of the political opposition and civil society.” The group expressed its concern that the security services “have a black list of the names of political opposition figures and some actors of civil society to be arrested, kidnapped or arrested on the pretexts that they were the intellectual authors and sponsors” of the recent violence.

The DRC’s powerful Catholic church backed ongoing protests against reforms that could extend President Joseph Kabila’s rule, denouncing a government crackdown which a rights group said had killed 42 people, Reuters adds:

As anti-government demonstrations in the capital Kinshasa entered their third day, the leader of Congo’s Catholics, Cardinal Laurent Mosengwo Pasinya, strongly criticized any attempt to postpone a presidential election due next year….With more than 40 percent of Congo’s 65 million people describing themselves as Catholic, the Church’s stance is likely to bolster popular resistance to the reform. 

floribertMeanwhile, police in Senegal this week arrested Paul Mwilambwe, a fugitive major in the Congolese Police, a major suspect in the murder of Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana, two Congolese human rights defenders assassinated in June 2010.