Struggle for free Cuba has become a genuine movement

huber matosWhen I visited Miami in 2009 to present the Directorio’s Pedro Luis Boitel Freedom Award, in absentia, to Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, I was deeply moved to greet Huber Matos (right), at the ceremony, writes the National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman.

I hadn’t seen him in almost thirty years, and his presence brought back memories of how I and others had campaigned for his release from prison and then welcomed him to New York and pledged to support his struggle for a free Cuba.  His death once again brings back those memories, which I want to recall as we remember Huber Matos and rededicate ourselves to his cause, his passion  — una Cuba libre.

I remember, first, the “Free Huber Matos” ad that we placed in The New York Times on October 13, 1979, the day Castro spoke at the U.N.  Matos was supposed to be released from prison the following week after twenty years solitary confinement and suffering.  His wife was terrified that they were going to kill him because he was the most powerful symbol of the betrayal of the Cuban revolution.  We got 100 of the most prominent Americans to sign the appeal for his release – among them Senators Scoop Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow, AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, and prominent intellectuals like Jeane Kirkpatrick, Arthur Schlesinger, and Sidney Hook.  And Huber Matos was released.

Just weeks later he came to New York where we organized meetings for him all over town, including a press conference at which he issued a powerful statement affirming his  belief that the Cuban struggle for freedom would succeed.  “The struggle against the regime will be a long one,” he said.  “Of that we have no illusions.  But it will succeed because of the people’s commitment to basic democratic values.  We do not support terrorism or an invasion from the outside.  We don’t want a dictatorship of the right to replace the repressive regime we now  have.  But we will win.  For the present our work must be of an ideological nature.  We are engaged in an ideological struggle  against Castro.  Our purpose is to explain the hard truth about his rule: which is that his regime violates every norm of human freedom and well-being and is despised by the overwhelming majority of the Cuban people.  Castro has failed, and the people know it.”

And then the following year, on the first anniversary of his release from prison, I joined Huber Matos in Caracas at the founding Congress of Cuba Independiente y Democratica (CID).  In my remarks to the Congress, I called it “a day of hope because Huber Matos is now free after twenty years in Castro’s jails.  It is a day of hope because Huber Matos has set an example of courage, integrity, and devotion to freedom.  It is a day of hope,” I said, “because his struggle shows that freedom and truth can and will prevail over lies, cruelty, and oppression.”

I concluded by pledging to help mobilize moral and political support for the struggle.  “Huber Matos was a prisoner,” I said, “but now he is free.  Cuba is enslaved, but  it will be free.  Let us go forth from this Congress joined in a common struggle por una Cuba libre! Por una Duba Independiente y Democratica! Y por un Mundo libre!”

We haven’t achieved that yet.  But we’re so much closer.  The movement is now so much stronger. And the people are so much better prepared.  It is now far beyond an ideological struggle and has become a genuine social and a political movement.  So as we mourn Huber Matos, let us remember him as he would have wanted us to remember him, as a brave fighter for freedom.  And let us pledge to honor him by never giving up until the Cuban people can enjoy the freedom and the dignity for which he devoted his entire life. 


Venezuela: Maduro’s dialog an ‘exercise in cynicism and manipulation’?

VZlacoaA coalition of Venezuelan opposition parties says it is willing to enter into talks with the government as long as certain conditions are met, the BBC reports:

The meeting was proposed by foreign ministers of the Unasur regional group to put an end to two months of anti-government protests. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had earlier agreed to take part. It is not yet clear though whether his government will agree to the terms demanded by the opposition.

In a letter addressed to the Unasur delegation, the umbrella opposition group Table for Democratic Unity (MUD) said it was “willing to hold a true dialogue, with a clear agenda, equal conditions [for both sides] and the first meeting of which will be transmitted live on national radio and television channels”.

But some opposition figures said talks must be televised, mediated by a third party and have a set agenda after Maduro offered to meet his opponents today “without previous conditions or agenda.”

“To begin the dialogue there needs to be a clear gesture from the government,” Popular Will’s representative at the Unasur meeting, Luis Florido, said in a post on his Twitter account made after Maduro’s statement. Authorities “must free Leopoldo Lopez and the political prisoners. That’s our stance.”

But as the international community continues to tip-toe toward engagement, Venezuela is currently more polarized than at any time in its recent history, says a leading analyst.

The divide between the regime and the opposition is deeper than ever, Juan Nagel writes for Democracy Lab’s Transitions:

The opposition believes democracy has been severely degraded during the chavista era, and many are now openly calling Maduro a dictator. While the government is proud of its high-tech electoral system, the opposition thinks it is grossly unfair: Numerous irregularities are routinely reported, but they are seldom investigated. ….A recent opinion poll by local pollster IVAD suggests that a majority of Venezuelans (55 percent) share the opposition’s view on democracy in the country. The government claims to believe that the right to protest is legitimate, but the opposition, currently undersiege in the streets of Venezuela’s main cities, strongly disputes that.

Judging by recent electoral outcomes, the two sides in this struggle are of roughly equal size. But their outlooks are so radically different that it sometimes seems as if they live in different countries altogether, writes Nagel, the editor of Caracas Chronicles, and author of Blogging the Revolution.

“As the international community tries to separate truth from fiction and play a constructive role in trying to foster dialogue, they would be well served in keeping their expectations low,” he notes. RTWT

Maduro could have used his recent New York Times op-ed to apologize for the murders of demonstrators and bystanders by the Venezuelan armed forces or by the “colectivos,” the illegal, armed groups that are funded and encouraged by his government, says Reynaldo Trombetta, the leader of the campaign:

He also could have apologized for the dozens of protesters who were shot and the hundreds more who were assaulted or tortured. Instead, he chose to launch fresh rhetorical attacks on his countrymen despite their legitimate protests against the terrible economic conditions in their country. It is indisputable that the forces under Mr. Maduro’s control are responsible for human rights violations. So his call for peace is nothing more than an embarrassing exercise in cynicism and manipulation.

Venezuela’s Catholic Church warns of ‘totalitarian’ Cubazuela

VZlacoaVenezuela’s political crisis and imploding economy is prompting Cuba’s communist regime to plead for Western investment and press for a lifting of the U.S. embargo.

“The regime’s fortunes are tied to those of Venezuela, which supplies Cuba with cheap oil in return for doctors, intelligence support and a splash of ideological credibility,” The Economist notes. “But Venezuela’s economy is crumbling and its leftist government is in trouble, so Cuba needs a plan B in case it demands market prices for its oil.”

Venezuela’s Roman Catholic Church this week added its voice to those warning of a political convergence towards a ‘Cubazuela’ model, accusing President Nicolas Maduro’s regime of seeking to impose a “totalitarian government” and blaming it for the current unrest.  

The protests were caused by “the attempt by the ruling party and the authorities of the Republic to install the so-called Plan of the Fatherland, behind which hides the imposition of a totalitarian government,” said Monsignor Diego Padron, president of the conference of bishops.

Maduro’s op-ed in The New York Times this week prompted a mixture of outrage and ridicule from Venenzuelan democrats.

“Venezuelans have grown used to the tsunami of spin, obfuscation, half-truths, and outright lies that dominate our large and growing state propaganda system,” said Francisco Toro, co-author of Blogging the Revolution: Caracas Chronicles and the Hugo Chávez Era.

Maduro claims that violent protesters and self-serving opposition politicians have fabricated the crisis, writes Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, executive secretary of the Democratic Unity Platform (MUD), the umbrella opposition group:

Mr. Maduro says his government has ended income inequality. Really? After the recent devaluation, the real value of the minimum wage in Venezuela plummeted to $63 a month, which corresponds to the average poverty line in developing countries as determined by the World Bank.

Moreover, Cendas, a respected research institute based in Caracas, has concluded that each Venezuelan now needs four minimum wages to make ends meet — all this in the midst of an oil bonanza.

Venezuela is plagued by crime, with almost 25,000 Venezuelans murdered in 2013 alone. Mr. Maduro says he wants a dialogue. Yet his government incarcerated the opposition leader Leopoldo López, sentenced the opposition mayor Enzo Scarano to prison and detained Mayor Daniel Ceballos. María Corina Machado was stripped of her seat in the National Assembly.

During the last two months of protest, the government’s brutal response has resulted in the deaths of at least 39 people, with more than 2,000 detained and 50 reports of torture, according to Amnesty International.


Secret ‘Cuban Twitter’ scheme aimed to advance democratic change

cuba - civil rightsThe U.S. Agency for International Development devised a secret social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist regime, AP reports:

According to documents obtained by The Associated Press and multiple interviews with people involved in the project, the plan was to develop a bare-bones “Cuban Twitter,” using cellphone text messaging to evade Cuba’s strict control of information and its stranglehold restrictions over the Internet. In a play on Twitter, it was called ZunZuneo – slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet.

Documents show the U.S. government planned to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content”: news messages on soccer, music, and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” – mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”

At its peak, the project drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions. But its subscribers were never aware it was created by the U.S. government, or that American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes……

USAID documents say their strategic objective in Cuba was to “push it out of a stalemate through tactical and temporary initiatives, and get the transition process going again towards democratic change.”

HT: RealClearWorld

Cubazuela: Castro’s control in Venezuela

A story in Spain’s liberal daily El Pais details Cuba’s extensive control in Venezuela:

Thousands of Cubans work today in Venezuela’s public administration.  In the presidency, ministries and state companies, as bureaucrats, doctors, nurses, dentists, scientists, teachers, computers programmers, analysts, agricultural specialists, electricity technicians, workers and cultural collaborators…..

The majority also serve in the militias. “We have in Venezuela over 30,000 ‘cederristas’ [militias] from the 8.6 million members our organization has,” Juan Jose Rabilero, then head of Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), revealed in 2007 at a public event in the Venezuelan state of Tachira. Nothing indicates this figure has decreased….. Cubans run Venezuela’s identification system, its passports and identity cards; mercantile exchanges and public notaries. They know who has what properties and what transactions are made. They also co-direct the ports and have a presence at the airports and migration controls, where they act at will. …

Cubans know almost everything about Venezuelans, but Venezuelans are kept unaware of just how many Cubans work in the country, how much they charge for their services and the terms of the agreements for these services, which are kept secret by the Venezuelan government. According to the latest official figures, in mid-2012, in Venezuela there were a total of 44,804 collaborators in so-called social missions; 31,700 in health care (11,000 doctors, 4,931 nurses, 2,713 dentists, 1,245 optometrists and 11,544 non-specified), 6,225 in sports, 1,905 in culture, 735 in agricultural activities, 486 in education and 54 in handicapped services. Yet, it is believed the actual numbers could be double. There are no officials statistics regarding those who work in the electricity sector, construction, information technology and security advisers to the government, among others.

Retired General Antonio Rivero, a former Chavez collaborator, assures that there are currently more than 100,000 Cubans in Venezuela, among them 3,700 in the intelligence services, the G2. “Just in security and defense, we estimate there are around 5,600 of them.” And he confirms that there are Cubans in the most important military bases in the country.

“In the Armed Forces, there are some 500 active Cuban military officers serving as advisers in strategic areas, such as intelligence, weaponry, communications and military engineering. …….”

HT: Capitol Hill Cubans