Freed Vietnamese dissident arrives in US

Vietnam_cu huyA dissident jailed for criticizing Vietnam’s leadership has been freed and is now in Washington, family friends and a U.S. official said on Tuesday, a rare concession by a country long criticized for its human rights record, Reuters reports:

French-educated lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu left Vietnam on Sunday with his wife after his release three years into a 10-year sentence of both jail and house arrest for conducting “anti-state propaganda”….His release comes as pressure mounts on Vietnam, which won a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2013, to stop intimidating, arresting and jailing critics, bloggers and other dissidents. Activists say such activity has spiked in the past few years.

With his strongly worded calls for a multi-party system and a change in national leadership, Vu, 56, became one of the ruling communist party’s most high-profile critics. He became even more prominent because his father, poet Cu Huy Can, was a former minister and a close associate of Vietnam’s late revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh.

Vietnam’s reputation for stamping out free speech has left the U,S, with a challenge to build a case for deeper trade and military ties with its former enemy, an approach aimed at tapping Vietnam’s emerging market potential and tempering the growing influence of its communist neighbor, China, Reuters adds.

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. 


Defending Hong Kong democracy in ‘global war of ideology’

MARTIN LEETwo of the most stalwart fighters for democracy in the global war of ideology were in Washington last week, hoping for moral support, The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt reports:

They made for an odd couple, though each has spent more than 40 years in the struggle: one is a consummate insider and the other has always battled from the outside.

The latter, lawyer Martin Lee (left) fought the British for more autonomy when they ruled Hong Kong. Since the British left in 1997, he has pressed Beijing to keep its word to allow Hong Kong to preserve its separate system of governance within China — the formula known as “one country, two systems.” …Anson Chan (right), by contrast, rose AnsonchanHKthrough the prestigious Hong Kong civil service to the top appointed position of chief secretary, resigning in 2001 when she felt the chief executive was allowing Beijing to chip away at Hong Kong’s core values: rule of law, a level playing field and freedom of press, speech and association.

With the 2017 and 2020 elections on the horizon, Chinese leaders are making increasingly clear they intend to install politicians they can control, an ominous sign for Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms—not to mention the economy, which relies on transparency and the rule of law, the two veteran leaders told a meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy

U.S. President Barack Obama recently told an audience in Brussels that, though the future belongs to those who support freedom and democracy, “those rules are not self-executing” and “the contest of ideas continues for your generation,” Hiatt observes, yet he also insisted that there is no new Cold War. “After all,” he said, “unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology.”

It’s true that “anti-freedom” doesn’t sound like an ideology to most Americans…But the dictators of Russia and China today are making a bid for legitimacy as well as survival, he writes:

They present themselves as guarantors of stability, warding off the confusion and insecurity that follow democratic uprisings. They boast of investing in the future — in highways and fast trains — in ways that pandering elected officials in India or the United States cannot manage. They put their systems forward as an antidote to the empty materialism of capitalist democracies — the pornography, the hedonism, the lack of respect for elders and religious leaders. They claim to stand for community, spirituality and tradition.

…But whether the leaders believe in their stew of xenophobia, phony egalitarianism and traditional (Russian Orthodox or Confucian) values hardly matters. They are fighting a new Cold War against democracy, and the other side is only intermittently on the field.


Isle of Light: A Look Back at Vietnam’s Boat People

vietnam vo van aiWe were sitting in a cafe on the Left Bank in Paris in November 1978 when the news broke that two thousand five hundred and sixty-four Vietnamese were stranded off the coast of Malaysia on a rusty cargo ship, the Hai Hong, writes Vo Van Ai, the founder and chair of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and Que Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam:

They had fled Vietnam in a desperate attempt to seek freedom and asylum overseas. After sixteen days on the South China seas, buffeted by storms, crushed by the heat, with no more food or water, they had arrived on the shores of Indonesia, then Malaysia, only to be pushed back by the coast guards. They had nowhere to land, and the ship could go no further. Stranded and helpless, starving and totally dehydrated, they were dying before our eyes as they unfurled a makeshift banner in English across the side of the ship: “UN please save us.”

They were not the first to undertake a desperate journey by sea to escape from Vietnam. Since 1975, when the South was “liberated” by Hanoi at the end of the Vietnam War, more than one million people had risked their lives in ramshackle crafts to escape repression. More than half of them had died—drowned, eaten by sharks, or murdered by pirates in the Gulf of Thailand, he writes for World Affairs:

But those who allowed themselves to be swayed by this illusion, who believed that there would be room for them in a country reunified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam under Hanoi’s rule, could not have been more mistaken. The communist authorities immediately divided the South Vietnamese into three categories: reactionary military personnel, reactionary administrative personnel, and reactionary citizens. In brief, the whole population was “reactionary.” In the months following the occupation, a vast network of “reeducation camps”—in reality forced labor camps, similar to the Chinese laogai—were set up throughout the South. Beginning with officers and soldiers from the former South Vietnamese Army, soon followed by writers, artists, academics, journalists, trade unionists, teachers, students, and farmers, people from all walks of life were summoned for “reeducation.” They were told to bring enough clothes and food for two weeks. Many would never return. Others would spend up to twenty years in these camps, released only when their health was broken and they were ready to die.

Although no definitive statistics have ever been published, Hanoi has admitted that more than two and a half million people were detained in reeducation camps between 1975 and 1985. Some one hundred thousand were summarily executed, and hundreds of thousands perished from hunger, exhaustion, and illness in these Vietnamese gulags. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of civilians were forcibly relocated to New Economic Zones where they served as human buffers along the Sino-Vietnamese or Cambodian border. Those who refused to go were arrested for breaching national security.

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and Que Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam are supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.


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