Silva: Brazil can help Cuban transition to democracy

Brazil-mARINA sILVAA former Amazon activist and Environment Minister Marina Silva is in a dead-heat presidential race with President Dilma Rousseff, who represents the Workers Party, which she herself helped found three decades ago, the UK Independent reports.

“Brazil has a great opportunity to become a global leader by leading by example,” Ms Silva said, talking about human rights and environmental protections. “Our values cannot be modified because of ideological or political reasons, or because of pure economic interest.”

Asked whether she would continue Brazil’s strong investment in and political support for regimes such as Cuba, Venezuela, China and Iran, Ms Silva said that dialogue was essential with each – but that her personal convictions meant Brazil would be more vocal in pushing human rights. “The best way to help the Cuban people is by understanding that they can make a transition from the current regime to democracy, and that we don’t need to cut any type of relations,” she said.

“If elected, she has such a remarkable personal story that she’d come to the presidency with a lot of legitimacy, tremendous excitement and high expectations,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue.


‘Gusano’ highlights Cuba’s intolerance of dissent

The Cuban pro-democracy group For Another Cuba has produced an exceptional documentary, detailing the intimidation, harassment and violence facing critics of the Communist regime. Totalitarian regimes are marked by their violent intolerance of even peaceful dissent and Gusano (‘Worm’) highlights the treatment meted out to those Cubans who opt to leave the island, notably by government-organized mobs, a.k.a. Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.

Essential viewing.    



Cuba – ‘operatives’ or simply civic activists?

If there are two things that inspire me it’s a ramped up, over-the-top, scurrilous AP story about democracy promotion and a Broadway musical–especially a Rodgers and Hammerstein production, writes Christopher Sabatini, editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas:

So, here is my adaptation of the classic Sound of Music,  “My Favorite Things,” based on the recent series of articles published by AP on USAID’s democracy program in Cuba.  The non-bracketed, italicized parts are sung to the music of “My Favorite Things.”  

Calling USAID agents,

when they’re just bureaucrats.

 [As in the Zun Zuneo story, where it refers to “agents of the US government, working in deep secrecy..”   USAID officers are not agents.  They may be poorly dressed, overly earnest bureaucrats. But agents?  No one describes them that way--except AP.]….

Referring to Gross,

on a top “secret mission.”

 These are a few of my favorite words!

 When deadline calls,

when the editor barks,

when I’m feeling down,

I simply pull out,

some of my favorite words,

and then I don’t feel so…bad.

Saying “deployed,”

when sent would  be better.

 [As in the first sentence of the August 4 AP story which says that the U.S. agency “deployed” Latin American youth to “work undercover” when they hadn’t been trained in the dangers of “clandestine operations.”   You deploy the military; I’m not sure you deploy activists to an island by sending them there. But wow, that sounds great, doesn’t it?  They’ve definitely deployed a great verb.  I bet it was those “agent” ideas to do that.]  

Using “assignment”,

and “guise” and “recruitment.”

[In the August story, the authors claim that Costa Rican and Venezuelan activists had an “assignment” to “recruit” Cubans for “anti-government activism” under the “guise of civic programs” with “security codes.”  Unfortunately, all the quotes above are mine, not APs, indicating that this inflammatory language was not in the actual documents they FOIA’d, leading one to conclude that they must have come from the AP reporters‘ fevered creative writing.  Sweet!]

Referring to activists,

by calling them “operatives.”

[…Several times the August 4 article describes the people USAID sent to Cuba who were working for NGOs as “operatives” for no apparent reason--though at one point it says they “posed as tourists” (please see my last blog post on that.)]….. 

[In the August 4 report, there are also other sloppily used terms like “bankrolling” (why not funding, except for the fact that bankrolling sounds illicit?), “blowing their mission” or the description that the HIV workshops were “supposed to offer straightforward sex education.”  [emphasis mine] or that the workshops were a “recruiting ground”  for “ginning up opposition” or “stirring unrest.”   Democracy programs the world over work with community groups to help them gain civic tools and experience; that doesn’t make them subversive, just useful.]…. 


Cuba: religious freedom violations continue to rise

cuba relig repress

Pastor Esmir Torreblanca standing in the ruins of his church and home. Photo: CSW.

The Cuban government continues to repress religious believers and its Office of Religious Affairs, responsible for official permits to worship, continues to monitors and harasses churches, according to a new report from the widely-respected, UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The well-documented report, which covers a period of 19 months ending in July of this year, includes details of the destruction of churches and notes that the Office of Religious Affairs is an official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, writes Frank Calzon, Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba.

Religious leaders say that if there is a need for supervision of the churches, it should be done by the government, and not by an arm of the ruling Party. This unique situation was alluded to by Pope John Paul II when he visited Cuba and called on the authorities to set aside “antiquated structures.”

The report calls on the European Union, the United States government, and other governments around the world not to ignore both religious repression in Cuba and the fact that “over the past decades the Castro regime has proved adept at sleight of hand tricks to convince the international community that it is committed to improvements in the human rights situation. Its approach to religious freedom has been no different.”

“Despite government claims of increased respect for religious freedom, reported violation of religious freedom in Cuba continued to increase dramatically,” CSW says. The report entitled “Cuba: Religious Freedom” says that “government agents continued to employ more brutal and public tactics than witnessed in the first decade of the millennium.” Christians in Cuba continue to report varying levels of discrimination in educational institutions and in their places of employment,” CSW says.

The scarcity of Bibles and other religious literature is due to “harsh government restrictions on the import of Bibles and other religious materials and a lack of access to printing infrastructure in the island.” The organization says that it has received “sporadic reports of violent beatings of Protestant Pastors and lay workers in different parts of the country.”

“Week after week, scores of women were physically and violently dragged away from Sunday morning services by state security agents,” and in many parts of the island, particularly in rural areas “the government has destroyed church properties.”

“On 2 July 2014 Cuban government agents including state security and Cuban Communist Party officials, destroyed a church and home affiliated with the Apostolic Movement in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. The unannounced demolition of the Establishing the Kingdom of God Church began at 6am while the owners of the home and their young children were sleeping inside.”

“They arrived and violently broke down the front door which was locked, the police entered with batons alongside a group of men carrying machetes. They began to destroy and occupy the properties of the pastor and the church,” according to Pastor Marcos A. Perdomo Silva, a church leader.  

“Photos taken at the scene show uniformed officers directing a bulldozer leveling the area where the church and home stood… Pastor Esmir Torreblanca, his wife, and his two children aged two and seven were left homeless…The following Sunday, members of the church met at the site for open air worship.” 

Frank Calzon is Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba.

Cuba, human rights and Latin America’s ‘meaningless multilateralism’

cubasantiestabanAs the U.S. experiences a surge in Cuban rafters aiming for Florida, a Costa Rican human rights group is disputing an Associated Press report that its activities in Cuba were covertly designed to foment a revolution against the communist regime, according to InterAmerican Security Watch:

Fernando Murillo, founder and CEO of Fundacion Operacion GAYA Internacional (FundaOGI), accused the AP in a statement of “manipulat[ing]” information about the group’s HIV-prevention workshop in Cuba. The AP reported on Monday that the workshop was part of a “clandestine operation” overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with the goal of “ginning up rebellion” on the island.

“[The AP] manipulated information in order to make it look like FundaOGI had instructions to set up cultural and artistic activities in an undercover way for destabilizing ends, which is totally false,” Murillo said.

Additionally, other defenders of the USAID program have raised concerns RTWT

Over the past decade, the United States’ influence in Latin America has declined, notes a leading analyst.

At the same time, China and India have emerged as important markets for the region’s exports. (China has become Argentina and Brazil’s largest export market, and the second-largest market for Chile, Peru, and Venezuela), Christopher Sabatini writes for Foreign Affairs:

There is also an ideological aspect to the region’s rebalancing. Washington’s free market economic model lost favor among South Americans after it was widely (though wrongly) blamed for stagnating economies and growing income disparity. Since then, many Latin Americans have wanted to create a new global economic and diplomatic order, one in which the United States does not play a dominant role.

The first attempts to bring such an order about were led by leftists, including former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, then President of Cuba Fidel Castro, and future Bolivian President Evo Morales. In 2004, Chavez and Castro created an explicitly anti-American bloc called the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) to promote the integration of Latin America as a counterpoint to the United States and its plans to create a free trade area of the Americas. By contrast, Brazil’s more calculating diplomatic elites encouraged the creation of organizations that shared ALBA’s goals of reducing U.S. involvement in the region but were less stridently ideological, capable of attracting moderate governments as well as leftist ones, and ultimately containing their Bolivarian neighbors’ more anti-globalization vision. Brazil sponsored the creation of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in 2008 and, with Mexico, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in 2011, with the stated goal of promoting regional solidarity and independence. Brasilia still largely underwrites both groups.

By refusing to acknowledge that member states had a moral and legal responsibility to respect human rights, these organizations are weakening the region’s democratic norms — norms that the region’s previous multilateral groups had tried to uphold, notes Sabatini, the senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas (AS/COA) and founder and editor-in-chief of the hemispheric policy magazine Americas Quarterly:

For all its many flaws, the Organization of American States (OAS), founded in 1948, had by the early 1990s finally established an effective consensus to meaningfully protect democratic norms — long a stated goal of the organization but often honored more in the breach than in practice. From monitoring the elections that helped create peace in war-torn Central America in the 1990s to making a stand against the authoritarian governments of the Dominican Republic in 1995 and Peru in 2000, when it organized collective denunciations of clearly stolen elections, the OAS proved that it was not afraid to stand up to recalcitrant governments when they violated basic political standards. Unfortunately, the new regional organizations, lacking the requisite legal authority and political power, don’t follow this precedent. Quite the opposite: by explicitly endorsing the sovereignty of the state, they have eroded individual rights and international norms.