Amid growing dissent, Cuba takes repressive turn

cuba perezPolitical dissent is one the rise in Cuba, says a leading expert.

“If by dissent one means people who are out on the streets demanding a change in the political regime, there’s a lot more than there used to be in the 1980s and 1970s, but there’s not a lot,” according to Harvard University’s Jorge Dominguez. “If by dissent one means they disagree with the policies of the Cuban government on topic x, y, or z and are prepared to say so, that actually happens now with increasing regularity,” he told CNN’s Global Public Square.

Today, Cuban democracy leader, Yris Perez Aguilera, wife of former political prisoner, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antunez,” was received by U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) below, Capitol Hill Cubans reports:

The president of Cuba’s Rosa Parks Civil Rights Movement had a clear message for the Congressional Black Caucus.

“They should look closely at Cuba’s Council of State, and see how many black Cubans they find there,” Perez said:

A quick glance at the pictures of Cuba’s top government body on their own website reveals that only eight out of 31 are black, and there’s only one black Cuban in the top echelon constituted by seven vice presidents and President Raul Castro.

While racial figures are hard to come by, mainly because Castro’s own figures distort the island’s ethnic makeup (its latest claim that the black population was 10 percent and the white population 65 percent is risible), visitors report that the population that is black or mixed is now a majority. The Economist put it this way in 2008: “Mr Castro’s Cuba is a sad place. Although the population is now mainly black or mulatto and young, its rulers form a mainly white gerontocracy.”

“Around 75 percent of the people in prison are black,” said Perez. “Black Cubans have no rights.”cuba perez 2

Perez would like to meet with members of the CBC while she’s here in Washington to explain to them Cuba’s realities. ….

“While I was languishing in prison, they paraded around Havana. My sister tried to deliver a petition asking them to come and visit me. They didn’t even accept it,” said Perez, who’s married to Cuba’s best known dissident, Jorge Luís García Perez, known as Antúnez and also as Cuba’s Nelson Mandela. Jorge Perez also constantly suffers imprisonment and beatings at the hands of the regime.

Eight years after General Raul Castro took the reigns as Cuba’s dictator-in-chief due to his older brother Fidel’s illness, he is portrayed by those seeking to normalize relations with Cuba as a reformer,’ but, the facts tell a different story, writes Mauricio Claver-Carone:

If eight years ago, we would have predicted that the Cuban regime under Raul Castro would be resuming military-intelligence gathering operations with Russia at the Lourdes Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) facility near Havana – we would have been dismissed as “Cold Warriors.”

If we would have predicted that the Cuban regime would be caught red-handed smuggling 240 tons of weapons to North Korea – the largest weapons cache discovered since U.N. Security Council sanctions towards the Kim regime were enacted – we would have been derided as instigators.

If we would have predicted that the Cuban regime would wrest political and operational control of the most resource-rich nation in Latin America, Venezuela; that it would undermine that nation’s democratic institutions; and direct a campaign of repression that would result in the arrest, torture and murder of innocent student protesters – we would have been mocked as delusional.

If we would have predicted that repression would rise dramatically in Cuba under Raul Castro; that political arrests would at least triple; that opposition activists Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Juan Wilfredo Soto and Wilmar Villar would be murdered; and democracy leaders Laura Pollan of The Ladies in White and Oswaldo Paya of the Christian Liberation Movement would die under mysterious circumstances – we would have been accused of exaggerating.


Payá family launches new plebiscite initiative in Cuba


cubaPayá_&_Cepero_II_Aniversario_SMALL_02On the second anniversary of the death of Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá, his daughter, Rosa María Payá, has announced that the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) he founded is preparing a campaign to demand a plebiscite on the island’s future, the Miami Herald reports:

Rosa Maria Payá said that the plebiscite, based on her father’s Varela Project, would include “one single question: Do you want to participate in free and multi-party elections?”

The Varela Project gathered more than 10,000 signatures on a petition seeking a new electoral law and demanding the right to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of association, among other measures. The signatures were rejected by the legislative National Assembly in 2002 but later that year Payá won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience, the most prestigious prize awarded by the European Union.

His daughter told El Nuevo Herald on Tuesday that since the Varela Project remains alive, “it is not necessary to collect more signatures. More than double the number required already have been handed in, even though the National Assembly has not responded to the demand.

“But the Varela Project is a citizens’ effort. Our intention with this (new) campaign is to mobilize citizens to demand their rights,” she added. “There can be no transition in Cuba unless first there’s a recognition of civil rights, of freedom of expression, of freedom of association to carry out the change we want.”

HT: Babablu blog.

Payá’s death in Cuba still awaits investigation

cubaPayá_&_Cepero_II_Aniversario_SMALL_02Two years ago Tuesday, a blue rental car was wrecked off a deserted road in eastern Cuba. In the back seat was Oswaldo Payá, one of Cuba’s best-known dissidents, who had championed the idea of a democratic referendum on the nation’s future, the Washington Post reports:

He received threats by phone and other warnings, some violent. But he did not give up. On the day of the crash, Mr. Payá was traveling with a young associate, Harold Cepero, across the island to meet with supporters of the Christian Liberation Movement. In the front of the rental car was a visitor from Spain, Ángel Carromero, a leader of the youth wing of that country’s ruling party, and one from Sweden.

The car spun out of control after being rammed from behind by a vehicle bearing state license plates, according to Mr. Carromero. While he and the associate from Sweden survived, Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero were killed. Mr. Carromero says he was then coerced to confess and subjected to a rigged trial in order to cover up what really happened. Mr. Carromero’s videotaped “confession,” broadcast on television, was forced upon him; he was told to read from cards written by the state security officers. He was sentenced to four years in prison for vehicular homicide and later released to return to Spain to serve out his term.

Since then, there has been no serious, credible investigation of the deaths. Cuba has brushed aside all demands for an international probe that would reveal the truth. Mr. Payá held dual Cuban and Spanish citizenship, but Spain has been shamefully uninterested in getting to the bottom of the story.

“The truth matters — to show the Castro brothers that they cannot snuff out a voice of freedom with such absolute impunity,” the Post adds. “The values that Mr. Payá fought for in Cuba must not be forgotten. Other dissidents are still struggling, despite crackdowns, beatings, jailings and persecution, and they must not be forsaken. “

cuba carrameroA UN Watch meeting this week heard testimony from Ángel Carromero (left), the driver in the suspicious crash, and Cuban dissident and poet Regis Iglesias.

“The accident took place two years ago and the family hasn’t had any access to the autopsy,” said Carromero.

After the panelists gave their testimony, representatives from the Cuban and Venezuelan government responded by screaming wild accusations of corruption at them and UN Watch.

The Venezuelan delegate said, “We have the greatest amount of oil; you [the United States] have the greatest empire and you are trying to take our resources.” In response to Ms. Lopez’s condemnation of the inhumane treatment of her jailed nephew, the Venezuelan insisted that he was “protected by all constitutional and legal rights.” VIDEO

The Cuban representative screamed accusations at the panelists and UN Watch: “This is clearly a program of the United States to undermine Cuba, and they have given these speakers money to participate,” said the furious representative, who ended his speech by loudly leading a walk-out of the North Korean, Syrian and other allied delegates who showed up at the UN Watch event. VIDEO

Two years on: commemorating Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero

cubaPayá_&_Cepero_II_Aniversario_SMALL_02Memorial services will be held tomorrow on the 2nd anniversary of the murders of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, Babalu blog reports.

In May, Pope Francis received the family of deceased Cuban democracy leader Paya, during a private meeting at the papal residence. Among the issues discussed were the deaths of Paya and fellow democracy activist Cepero; the Castro regime’s repression of peaceful democracy activists; the “fraudulent change“ purportedly underway on the island; the Christian Liberation Movement’s proposed plebiscite; and the status of the Catholic Church in Cuba.  

Both activists died on July 22, 2012, when the car in which they were traveling was rammed off the road by the secret police. The regime targeted Payá because he “crossed a red line in challenging the government’s relations with the church, which had become a pillar of the government’s strategy of survival…. at a time when the regime, emboldened by the cardinal’s silence at the mass arrests during the pope’s visit to Cuba in March, was not about to tolerate criticism,” said the National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman.

China in Latin America: trade trumps ideology?

china-latin-americaFears that Xi Jinping’s current tour of Latin America is an effort to rally the U.S.’s ideological enemies in the region are overblown, according to FT analyst John Paul Rathbone.

Beijing’s continued courtship of some Latin American countries also often says less about its ideological preferences than its ability to cut state-to-state deals:

China’s attention to resource-rich Latin American countries in part simply mirrors the remarkable growth in bilateral trade flows, which soared to $200bn in 2010 from almost nothing a decade before. Venezuela, for example, now accounts for 6 per cent of Chinese oil imports.

“With the exception of Cuba, I don’t see Beijing’s Latin American ties as primarily ideologically based – they have been about deal-making,” says Margaret Myers, director of the China and Latin America program at the Washington DC-based Inter-American Dialogue. “But now Beijing’s thinking [on deal-making] may be changing.”

The prompt for any rethink lies in potentially misspent loans made to Venezuela, dawdling economic reforms in Cuba and once-promising Argentine projects that have been as difficult for Chinese companies to develop as they have for others, Rathbone adds…..It is almost certain to be true in Havana, where China is impatient with Raúl Castro’s dawdling economic reforms that Beijing once thought would mimic its own speedy economic rise.

But it is especially certain in Caracas, which has taken almost $50bn in oil-backed loans since 2007. In 2011, Beijing reportedly dispatched inspectors to Venezuela’s ministries to study how its loans had been spent.

“President Xi’s trip...[is] less about deepening already healthy ties with strong regional allies than seeking to mitigate deep anxieties about its commercial and diplomatic relations with dysfunctional friends,” suggests Matt Ferchen, analyst at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy.

Best of all, any subsequent Chinese criticism will carry extra weight as it comes without the usual baggage of the neoliberal West. Globalisation will then be revealed as much the same whether it is north-south or south-south. In the more highly-charged ideological environments of countries such as Venezuela or Cuba, that too can only be a good thing.

While Xi’s trip is focused mainly on closing business deals, Beijing’s economic and political support to these countries will come at a price, warns Víctor M. Mijares, professor of International Relations at the Simon Bolivar University in Caracas and Visiting Research Fellow at the GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg:

The Chinese approach hasn’t gone down well everywhere in the region. Political and economic ties with China have also been interpreted as a part of the “Beijing Consensus,” – or the Chinese economic model – a recipe for sustainable authoritarianism. Moreover, China’s economic support doesn’t come for free, as the requirements set by Beijing can also be costly and generate long-term commitments prone to limit the autonomy of the state.

It is also important to point out that the Chinese presence in Latin America is troublesome for Brazil in a regional level. Part of the problems confronted by Brasilia is linked to the fact that it has failed to establish regional hegemony in the continent. While Beijing and Brasilia may be partners within the BRICS, the two countries see each other as rivals in Latin America.

Raúl Castro openly declared himself a follower of the Chinese model, Mijares adds, stating that

a) Havana supports China’s political rise, and b) Cuba’s elite wants to evolve from an orthodox Marxist-Leninist state into a Deng Xiaoping-inspired state with a unique and strong ruling party on the one side, but also with the ability to introduce and implement key economic reforms.

As for China, the Xi-led government is looking with interest at the soft and controlled transition of power in Cuba. But at the same time it also has an eye on geopolitics and trade. With the projected expansion of the Panama Canal, Cuba’s medium and long-term importance in terms of trade will grow.