Aid civil society for a ‘Cuba without shackles’

cuba - civil rightsOver the past 30 to 40 years, Latin America has experienced a series of political transitions to governments chosen by the people, open to information, and to democracy. This has since been the policy of the United States toward Latin America, says Jaime Suchlicki, Director of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

The United States’ strategy toward Cuba is the same it employed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Cuba is an enemy state; it supports terrorism, traffics in humans disguised as humanitarian programs that send reluctant doctors, nurses and workers overseas. Cuba is a friend of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Russia, and, of course, Venezuela.

To assume that the United States will change its policies without first obtaining concessions from Cuba shows a lack of understanding of international relations. For the U.S. to change its Cuba policy, Cuba has to change too…..The issue at hand is that the Cuban regime refuses to provide concrete and real concessions. But then again, no totalitarian government is willing to offer concessions that lead to their demise such as uncensored Internet access, open political processes, or free elections.

For example, in Chile General Pinochet was willing to carry out a popular referendum which he lost and as a consequence opened the democratic process. General Raul Castro’s government is not willing to do so……

What does the Cuban government want? Raul Castro’s government wants:

  1. The unilateral ending of all travel restrictions.
  2. Access to more credits to purchase products in the U.S. and in other countries.

Yet Cuba has not repaid credits provided by Venezuela, France, Spain, and even the former Soviet Union, among other countries. Cuba is not willing to open the political process, allow uncensored Internet access, or change the political system in exchange for these concessions.

Cuba is not isolated; instead it has partnered all over the world with its allies Venezuela, China, Russia and Iran. The Castro brothers do not want the U.S. involved in Cuba’s internal affairs.

Let’s take a look at the efforts from outside of Cuba to promote real change. We have to begin by remembering during the Cold War, the U.S. promoted several activities in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union:

  1. Radio Free Europe
  2. Smuggling information inside Russia, and Eastern Europe
  3. Support for Poland’s Solidarity movement
  4. Support for Poland’s Catholic Church.

In fact, I do not recall any Eastern European exile saying, “I want all restrictions lifted so I can invest in Poland,” or “I want to send more packages there,” or “I want more tourists to travel to Poland because they are going to change the system.”

To those who think American tourism is going to change Cuba, I propose to open a travel agency to send tourists to North Korea. No one thinks that tourists will make a difference there so why would they make a difference in Cuba?……

Another important topic that should be discussed and publicized is the exploitation of the Cuban worker by the State and by foreign companies. Cubans are modern day slaves of foreign investors and the Castro government. Foreign companies pay the Cuban government in hard currency and the government pays the workers in convertible pesos, keeping 90% of the foreign payments.

Why doesn’t the United Nations or the American government condemn this practice? Why don’t they point out that only fair skinned Cubans are hired by foreign companies? Or that white, not black, Cubans receive most of the Cuban-American remittances? Or where are the programs that are supposed to help black Cubans?

We should use our resources to help Cubans inside the island, to help the civil society, penetrate the political systems and provide information. …I find it ironic that some Cuban-American entrepreneurs that have made money in the U.S., and benefited from a free society, rule of law and democracy, are embracing insignificant economic changes in Cuba, in the hope that it will lead to a political change; even when it means engaging with the current system.

Cubans have to have control over their businesses and freely choose their government. It is the people that should choose their own representatives, in free elections, Cuba’s future political system. We must have a vision of a democratic Cuba. It does not matter if it takes 10 or 20 more years. I may not see it but my children will.

RTWT

This excerpt is taken from Professor Jaime Suchlicki’s presentation during the “Acciones y Opciones para el Empoderamiento de la Sociedad Civil en Cuba” Forum.  This event was hosted by the Foro de Promoción Democrática Continental (FPDC) on June 28, 2014 at Florida International University’s College of Law.

Note: to watch videos of the forum in Spanish visit the Cuba Transition Project (CTP) website at http://ctp.iccas.miami.edu/main.htm, and click on “New/Relevant.”

*Jaime Suchlicki is Emilio Bacardi Moreau Distinguished Professor and Director, Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to the Rise of PAN, now in its second edition and the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba.

Vietnam Communists demand end to Vietnamese Communism

vietnam dissentSeveral dozen senior members of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party have written a letter openly denouncing the country’s leadership, accusing them of taking the “wrong path”, and calling fora “decisive shift” from dictatorship to democracy, the UK’s Channel 4 reports:

The authors of the open letter want the Vietnamese government to “come clean” about a secret summit in which Vietnam is alleged to have secretly handed over territory to China. It is difficult to know where the open letter will lead but Hoi Trinh of advocacy group Voice, says it will encourage a small, growing and increasingly emboldened band of pro-democracy activists in Vietnam. “What is surprising about the letter is that it was made public,” says Trinh. “It’s not the way things are done in Vietnam. You can criticise the government within your family. You can even criticise them in the coffee shop. You don’t do it publicly – but these people did exactly that.”

“The path that the leadership has been imposing on the country is wrong and is taking us down a blind alley,” Nguyen Khac  Main, a veteran party member and one of the letter’s signatories, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service:

The recent deployment of a Chinese oil rig in waters off Vietnam’s coast, together with the sinking by China of a Vietnamese fishing boat, have lowered relations between Vietnam and China to their worst level since the two communist nations fought a brief border war in 1979.

Violent anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam followed the deployment of the rig, which was later withdrawn, and left at least four people dead and the destruction of factories believed to be operated by Chinese companies, though many were Taiwanese-owned.

Also speaking to RFA, former director of the Vietnam Institute of Sociology Tuong Lai said,  “In the name of socialism and in the name of  having a similar communist leadership, China manipulates the Vietnamese Communist Party and the leaders of Vietnam, making them dependent on China.”

“And it is this dependence that has increasingly damaged the party’s reputation and caused such severe distrust among party members and the people.”

Vietnam_cu-huyA string of Vietnamese activists have had their Facebook accounts suspended, and claim to have been targeted by an ‘online army’ sponsored by the government, the BBC reports:

When David Nguyen – a human rights lawyer – tried to log in to the site, he found his account had been blocked. He was faced with a message from Facebook which said he was suspected of posting fraudulent personal information. He wasn’t the only one. At least 100 users – mostly pro-democracy and human rights campaigners – have faced similar treatment, according to Viet Tan, a political group who oppose the communist government.

Although the blocks have been implemented by Facebook, it isn’t the site itself that’s to blame. Nguyen says he, and many like him, have been targeted by a rival team of site members – or “opinion shapers” – organised and paid by the government.

When human rights in Vietnam are discussed in the international community it is invariably the nation’s track record on freedom of speech, or lack thereof, which takes precedence, notes an observer:

The communist nation is regularly excoriated for its human rights track record, by which critics usually mean the locking up of bloggers, but the issues that so concern many of those same bloggers – corruption, police brutality, and workers’ rights, among others – are often all but absent from the majority of discussions about human rights, at least publicly.

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.

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Authoritarians shaping post-Ukraine world order – Ignatieff

authoritarians xi-jinping-vladimir-putinRussia’s annexation of Crimea has shaken our assumptions about the global order that took shape after 1989, says a leading authority. The re-ordering underway is truly global, writes Harvard UniversityProfessor Michael Ignatieff:

In the East Asia, rival naval fleets are circling each other, Chinese oil platforms are drilling in disputed waters and belligerent accusations fly between Asian capitals. China no longer speaks the language of ‘quiet rise’. Ji Xinping’s muscular foreign policy is alarming Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and the United States. 

We sense that these changes – in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia – are connected to each other. We sense that the tectonic plates are shifting. We question whether anyone in Washington, London, Moscow or Beijing truly grasps what is going on. So this is a good moment to consider what narratives are available to us to make sense of what is happening.

Francis Fukuyama was right to tell us that the history-defining contest between capitalism and communism was over in 1989, Ignatieff said, delivering this summer’s Ditchley Foundation annual lecture:

wenty five years on, however, from the Polish border to the Pacific, from the Arctic Circle to the Afghan border, a new political competitor to liberal democracy has taken shape that Fukuyama did not anticipate: authoritarian in political form, capitalist in economics and nationalist in ideology.

Lawrence Summers has called this new form ‘mercantilist authoritarianism’ which certainly captures the central role that the state and state enterprises play in the Russian and Chinese economies. [1] Mercantilism, however, misses the crude element of cronyism that is central to Putin’s economic model and to the Communist Party of China as well. 

There are of course significant differences between the Chinese and Russian variants of authoritarian capitalism. In the Chinese model, the party retains its monopoly role, and while there are managed elections at the village level, no pretense is offered that the system is democratic. Russia pretends to be democratic: there are formal constitutional guarantees and elections, but no one doubts that ultimate control rests with the Soviet nomenklatura and the secret police.

In the medium term, what unites them, of course, is a shared hostility to what John Ikenberry has called ‘the liberal leviathan’, the United States and its global web of encircling alliances. So far, the two authoritarians have few friends, but their model is attractive. For corrupt elites in Africa and Latin America, China and Russia offer a model that allows them to continue extractive development.

Unique combination

“This unique combination of private liberty and public despotism separates the new authoritarianism from its Soviet and Maoist past and probably guarantees the long-term stability of both regimes,” Ignatieff contends:

To be sure, this new form of rule has little outward ideological appeal. Europe and the United States continue to attract immigrants from all corners of the globe, drawn by a freedom that is both private and public. No one is migrating to Russia – or China for that matter. They are out-migration countries. But the fact that their authoritarian capitalism does not appeal to outsiders does not mean it lacks internal legitimacy or support.….

The authoritarian apologetics of both Russia and China may not be appealing, but they are not ideologically aggressive. They make a national claim to legitimacy, not a universal one. Chinese rulers may believe in China’s civilizational superiority, but they have not embarked upon a civilizing mission for the whole world. Mao may have encouraged Maoists from Peru to Paris, but the current regime has no such ambitions. It may want global power but it does not seek global hegemony. The same is true of Russia. Unlike Stalin, Putin will never claim that his country is the universal home of all those seeking emancipation from the capitalist yoke.

“In the absence of a universalizing ideology, therefore, the new authoritarian states may be aggressive and nationalist in rhetoric, but they are unlikely to be expansionist,” he suggests.

Two over-riding questions

There are two over-riding questions that arise with the emergence of authoritarian capitalism as the chief strategic and ideological competitor to liberal democracy. The first is: are they stable? The second is: are they aggressive? Igantieff adds:

Authoritarian societies have powerful advantages over democratic ones. They can make decisions more rapidly, marshal resources of labor and capital by executive decision while democratic societies must first overcome the veto points in their own systems. Since authoritarian societies suppress dissent and plural opinion, they can also channel nationalist emotions into powerful justification for overseas adventurism, especially intervening to protect co-nationals in neighboring countries. China’s Asian neighbors must be wondering when the regime starts using ‘the protection’ of the Chinese as a justification for meddling in their internal affairs.

Authoritarian oligarchies, however, are also brittle. Their rulers believe they must control everything or soon they will control nothing.  Their chief dilemma is how to manage the political aspirations unleashed by their own rapid growth. Under Stalin and Mao, rising aspirations for voice could be crushed by force. Under the new authoritarianism, some private freedom has to be allowed since it is the condition of capitalist progress itself.

“China’s new assertiveness in Asia is driven by many factors – including the need to find energy supplies in the seas off its shores – but also by a desire to rally its rising middle classes around an assertive vision of what Xi Jinping calls the ‘China Dream”, in which China becomes a global power, not just a regional hegemon,” Ignatieff argues:

In the Russian case, the strategic dilemmas are similar: legitimizing extractive rule to a brittle and discontented middle class at home while meeting the challenge of American alliance encirclement on its frontiers. Putin’s response to these challenges has been similar to China’s but has to take into account a weaker economic position.

We should, however, beware of exaggerating these weaknesses. The conventional view about Putin’s regime is that he is perched atop a society in demographic and economic decline, with decaying infrastructure and weak health care and social protection. This is wishful thinking, a false narrative that continues, in essence, the Cold War view that the Soviet Union was “Upper Volta with rockets.”  On the contrary, Russia’s natural resource wealth gives it a certain source of state revenue throughout the 21st century, while its limited regime of private freedom creates a safety valve that allows the regime to contain democratic discontent. For millions of Russians, the freedom to travel, to emigrate, to save and invest more than compensate for the occasional brutality the regime displays towards the brave minority who continue to demand an end to authoritarian rule.  

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Michael Ignatieff is a Canadian writer, teacher and former politician. He holds a doctorate in history from Harvard University and has held academic posts at King’s College, Cambridge and at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.  He served in the Parliament of Canada and was Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. His books include The Needs of Strangers (1984), Scar Tissue (1992), Blood and Belonging (1993), The Warrior’s Honour (1997) Isaiah Berlin (1998), The Rights Revolution (2000), Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (2004) and Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics (2013). 

He is the Centennial Chair at the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in New York and the Edward R. Murrow Professor of the Practice of Politics and the Press at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.


 

[1] Lawrence Summers   Financial Times, July 8, 2014

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.