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.

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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.

Azerbaijan’s ‘relentless crackdown’ on critics

AZERBAIJAN LEYLA YUNISAzerbaijan’s arrest of a leading human rights defender and government critic, Rasul Jafarov, reflects the government’s concerted efforts to silence its critics, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should immediately secure Jafarov’s release from pretrial custody and drop all politically motivated charges against him. They should also end their ongoing harassment against independent organizations.

“Rasul Jafarov is one of the most outspoken critics of politically motivated prosecution in Azerbaijan and of its ever-deteriorating rights record,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “By arresting Jafarov, the authorities are sending an unambiguous message to activists to stop their human rights advocacy.”

The Grave Crimes Investigation Unit of the General Prosecutor’s Office arrested Jafarov on August 2, 2014. He is the founder and chair of Human Rights Club, an independent human rights group. Together with several partner organizations, Jafarov had been compiling a comprehensive list of victims of politically motivated arrests in Azerbaijan and pressing for their release. He planned to submit the list to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, which in June had appointed a special rapporteur on politically motivated prosecutions in Azerbaijan. Human Rights Club had spearheaded several critical campaigns against politically motivated prosecutions in Azerbaijan, including the “Sing for Democracy” campaign in the lead up to the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2012.

On July 30, 2014, Azerbaijani authorities arrested Leyla Yunus (above), another human rights defender who was working on the list with Jafarov, on multiple charges, including treason.

Jafarov’s arrest takes place amid a comprehensive crackdown on independent organizations and political activists. In the past two years, Azerbaijani authorities have brought or threatened unfounded criminal charges against dozens of political activists, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders, most of whom are behind bars. The crackdown continued even as, on May 14, Azerbaijan took over the rotating chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Europe’s foremost human rights body.

“The government fears human rights work that exposes abuses, and its response is to abuse the law and push organizations to its margins,” Denber said. “Groups that are outspoken and challenge government policies, or work on controversial issues, are now extremely vulnerable to criminal prosecution.”

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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.

Azerbaijani rights defender charged with high treason

AZERBAIJAN LEYLA YUNISAzerbaijani human rights defender Leyla Yunus has been charged with “high treason, tax evasion, illegal entrepreneurship, forged documentation and fraud, reports Meydan TV. She has also been given three months of pre-trial detention, according to Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova.

Her husband Arif Yunus is reportedly facing two charges; state betrayal and fraud, Index on Censorship reports.

Yunus has been shouting truth to power in Azerbaijan for years, earning a reputation as the conscience of her country, RFE/RL’s Robert Coalson and Ilkin Mammadov report:

The authorities seem bent on playing hard ball in this case. A lengthy statement by the prosecutor’s office tries to connect the Yunuses with Armenia’s secret services and accuses them of providing detailed military information relating to the simmering dispute over Azerbaijan’s breakaway ethnic-Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The charges filed against the Yunus’s are outrageous,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD) and Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), co-chairmen of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. “Both Leyla and Arif are long-time supporters of people-to-people contact with Armenia, and the charge of espionage against them is absurd. We urge the Government of Azerbaijan to drop the charges and to stop the coordinated campaign aimed at the opposition, civil society and journalists in Azerbaijan who are peacefully exercising their right to freedom of speech and freedom of association.”

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention:

Please write to the authorities in Azerbaijan, urging them to:

i.Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov as well as of all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan; 

ii.      Immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Leyla Yunus from pre-trial detention and Mr. Yunusov from house arrest, since their detention is arbitrary as it only aims at sanctioning their human rights activities;

iii.     Remove all travel restrictions placed upon Ms. Leyla Yunus and Mr. Arif Yunusov;

iv.     Put an end to any kind of harassment – including at the judicial and investigatory levels – against Ms. Leyla Yunus, Mr. Arif Yunusov, her relatives and more generally against all human rights defenders in Azerbaijan;

v.       Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially:

-Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”;

-Article 5, which underscores the right of every individual to form, join, and participate in non-governmental organizations; and

-Article 12.2, which provides that the State shall “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights”;

vi.     Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Azerbaijan.

Addresses:

Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Office of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 19 Istiqlaliyyat St., Baku AZ1066, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 25, (+994) 412 92 28 68, E-mail: office@pa.gov.az, office@apparat.gov.az

Mr. Zakir Garalov, Prosecutor General of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Prosecutor’s Office, 7 Nigar Rafibeyli St., Baku, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 492 06 82, (+994) 12 492 26 63, E-mail: z.qaralov@prosecutor.gov.az, info@prosecutor.gov.az

Mr. Eldar Mahmudov, Minister of National Security, Ministry of National Security of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Parliament Avenue 14, Baku AZ1006, Azerbaijan, Fax: (+994) 12 493-76-22, E-mail: cpr@mns.gov.az

Mr. Ramil Usubov, Minister of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Azerbaijani Republic, Fax: (+994) 12 492 45 90

Mr. Elmar MammadyarovMinister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, E-mail: katiblik@mfa.gov.az

Mr. Fikrat F. Mammadov, Minister of Justice in Azerbaijan, Inshaatchilar Prospekti, 1 Baku, Azerbaijan, e-mail: contact@justice.gov.az; Fax (+994) 12 430 09 81

H.E. Mr. Murad N. Najafbayli, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Azerbaijan to the United Nations in Geneva, Route des Fayards 237, CH-1290 Versoix, Switzerland, Fax: (+41) 22 901 18 44, E-mail: geneva@mission.mfa.gov.az

Embassy of Azerbaijan in Brussels, Avenue Moliere 464, 1050 Brussels, Belgium, Fax: (+32) 2 345 91 85

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Azerbaijan in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Azerbaijan.

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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