Dissident Squared.’ Let’s rename streets outside dictators’ embassies

majidtavakoliIn the ’80s, the U.S. Senate renamed the street outside the Soviet Embassy Sakharov Plaza to protest the dissident’s treatment. It’s time to give similar reminders to today’s dictatorships, James Kirchick .

Renaming the streets, squares, and plazas outside Russian embassies and consulates after Magnitsky is the brainchild of David Keyes, executive director of the innovative advocacy organization Advancing Human Rights. Last month in New York, he confronted Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif about the plight of Majid Tavakoli (right), a leading student activist and political dissident imprisoned by the Iranian government since 2009. .. Keyes’s piece inspired thousands of Iranians to confront their foreign minister on social media about Tavakoli’s plight; two weeks later, Takavoli was freed.

Keyes calls his project “Dissident Squared,” a name that evokes both the physical dimension of its purpose and its ability to multiply the notoriety of imprisoned dissidents and confront their jailers head on.

“It will help concentrate the minds of dictatorships wonderfully well,” says Irwin Cotler, former attorney general of Canada and counsel for Nelson Mandela and Natan Sharansky, among others.

Cotler recalls a conversation he had with Gorbachev years after the Soviet authorities decided to release Sharansky, then the most famous of the Soviet Jewish refuseniks who had campaigned for the right to emigrate.

“I never knew anything about Sharansky,”Gorbachev told Cotler. “I never even knew the name. I came to Canada as the minister of agriculture, and I appeared before a Canadian Parliamentary Committee on agriculture, but instead of getting questions about agriculture, I got questions about Sharansky. I left the Parliament building and saw placards of Sharansky. Wherever I went I was confronted by Sharansky. So I came back to the Soviet Union and I said, ‘Who is this guy Sharansky?’ I got the files and said, ‘Well, he might have been a troublemaker, but he isn’t a criminal,’ so we ordered his release. It wasn’t worth the international price we paid.”

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Soft landing in Cuba? As regime cracks down on dissidents, ‘Connect Cuba’ with ‘Internet without the Internet’

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Cuban singers Gloria Estefan and Willy Chirino are backing an initiative to deliver what Havana blogger Yoani Sánchez has called “the Internet without the Internet”  to the island, providing USB drives, DVDs, CDs and other formats loaded with uncensored information, Cubaheadlines reports.

Meanwhile, Cuban security officials detained nearly 30 members of the dissident Ladies in White while a government-backed mob twice pummeled and kicked a top opposition leader in the latest weekend crackdown on pro-democracy activists, The Miami Herald’s Juan O. Tamayo reports:

GuillermoFariñasTristeGuillermo Fariñas (right), one of the country’s best known dissidents, said he suffered half a dozen bruises in the attacks Sunday as he twice approached a police station in his hometown of Santa Clara to file a complaint against the arrests of 11 Ladies in White. ….Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament’s 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience, said he recognized some of the people who beat him up as sports trainers and nurses waiting for profitable but government-controlled job assignments abroad.

“These people are being blackmailed to hand out punches,” said Fariñas, who serves as spokesman for the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), one of the most active pro-democracy groups on the island.

The Connect Cuba campaign will feature an online petition urging Havana to provide citizens with unabridged and affordable access to the Internet, according to the Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba:

The foundation raised $35,000 in 35 days through a crowd-funding request on Indiegogo.com to pay for the initial costs of the campaign such as the Web page and designs, said José Luís Martínez, the foundation’s communications director.

The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba received a $3.4 million, three-year grant in 2011 from the U.S. Agency for International Development to support Cuban civil society, and separately raises more than $600,000 a year from private donors. None of the USAID money will be used for the Connect Cuba campaign, Costa said.

Yesterday, the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC’s Young Leaders Group released the sixth installment of its dissident awareness campaign:

Angel Yunier RemónAngel Yunier Remón (left), a young Cuban rapper known as ‘El Critico,’ sat in a Cuban prison on the verge of death due to his courageous 18+ day hunger strike, Capitol Hill Cubans reports:

Angel was first arrested in March when he tried to stand up to an organized mob sent by the Cuban Government to harass Angel and his family and to vandalize his home. Like other Cuban dissidents, Angel was targeted for openly criticizing his government’s oppression and brutal human rights record in his lyrics. Angel has said that he intends to maintain his hunger strike to shed light on the unjust nature of his imprisonment and to demand his freedom. We ask that the international community stand up in solidarity with Angel and demand that his oppressors #FreeElCritico Now!

Private movie theaters and video arcades, which have sprung up across Cuba in recent months, are not among occupations sanctioned by recent government reforms and must shut down, state media said, according to Agence France Presse:

Dozens of home movie theaters and video parlors have popped up since communist Cuba began allowing some measure of private employment, as part of a gradual reform of its Soviet-style economy….President Raul Castro in 2010 introduced the reforms in an effort to rescue the foundering Cuban economy, including deep projected cuts in the number of workers employed by the state.

Soft Landing in Cuba?

The ‘Market-Leninist’ reforms were designed to liberalize the economy, allowing for a dynamic private sector, a growing middle class and a wider range of goods and services, according to the Latin America Initiative in Foreign Policy at Brookings:

As a result, about 20 percent of the Cuban workforce can now be classified as a participant in the private sector and are poised to create jobs and provide real savings opportunities. However, emerging entrepreneurs face many challenges – an inaccessible state banking system, scarcity of critical capital and commercial rental space, burdensome taxation and an uncertain business climate. It remains unclear whether the powerful Cuban state is prepared to allow private businesses to grow, partner with state entities to take advantage of foreign capital and set Cuba on a sustainable path towards prosperity.

On November 8, the Latin America Initiative in Foreign Policy at Brookings will host the launch of a new study, Soft Landing in Cuba? Emerging Entrepreneurs and Middle Classes by Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Richard Feinberg, a former advisor to the Clinton administration’s National Security Council and now professor at the University of California, San Diego. Drawing on conversations with Cuban business owners, the report locates emerging entrepreneurs and the modern middle class as the potential pillars of a new economic model that could bring a soft landing for the Cuban economy.

Feinberg will be joined by Carlos Saladrigas, chairman of the Cuba Study Group; and Saira Pons, a researcher and instructor at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy (CEEC) at the University of Havana. Senior Fellow Ted Piccone, acting director and vice president of Foreign Policy at Brookings, will provide introductory remarks and moderate the discussion.

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Eastern Partnership reality check: challenges for civil society

europshipPolitical paranoia is fueling the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s determination to prevent Ukraine signing a free-trade agreement with the European Union, alongside Moldova and Georgia, analysts suggest.

The Kremlin is trying to strong-arm European Partnership states into joining a Customs Union established in 2010 by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, in the hope that it will evolve into a more powerful “Eurasian Union,

A forthcoming event will bring together civil society leaders from the Eastern Partnership countries and the European Union, key experts from regional and transatlantic non-governmental organisations, think-tanks, international aid agencies and political foundations, as well as distinguished political figures and public activists. The conference participants will focus on the main challenges faced by civil society in Eastern Partnership countries, and ways to support it through increasing its operational capacity and enhancing civil society’s participation in the decision making processes.

Conference participants will also discuss the Eastern Partnership strategy beyond Vilnius, and the role of civil society in supporting the implementation of the future Association Agreements, including DCFTAs, that are expected to be finalized in Vilnius.

This conference will be the continuation of the annual Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, which this year will take place in Chisinau, Moldova, on October 3-6, 2013.

Organized by the Eastern Europe Studies Centre, the conference is held in cooperation with the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum and with the kind support of the European Commission, Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and National Endowment for Democracy.

More information available here.

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Latin America reset? 10 elections in 13 months

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Credit: SUNY Levin Institute

From October 2013 to December 2014, there are ten national elections occurring in Latin America, SUNY’s Levin Institute reports.

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, and Uruguay are having presidential and/or legislative elections. In most of these countries, democracy has taken root. In general, analysts do not fear that the elections will result in violence or a weakening of democratic institutions. Honduras though is the exception on that front.

There are international, regional as well as national factors at play that will determine the outcomes of these elections. Some of the international and regional factors include weakened commodities markets, less access to capital, and the inclusion of expat populations in elections. On a national level, security and economic issues will play an important role in choosing a leader that will grow the economy and provide for personal security, both of which are lacking in many of these countries.

If Xiomara Castro wins as well as Sánchez Cerén from FMLN in El Salvador, then politics in Central America may shift toward the ALBA Alliance in Latin America, says Miriam Kornblith, director of the Latin America and the Caribbean Program at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Castro is likely to join ALBA if she wins the presidency, while it is unclear if FMLN will join as well, its politics are certainly left-leaning. The 2014 FMLN presidential candidate, Sánchez Cerén, is also much further left-leaning the current FMLN leader, Mauricio Funes, who is considered a moderate.  ALBA’s influence though may be waning due to Chavez’s death, so analysts will see if Chavez’s legacy continues or if this regional body loses steam.

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Is Brazil a new champion of democracy promotion?

map of Brazil and Brazilian flagLatin America’s largest nation has quietly turned into democracy’s “defender-in-chief,” in sharp contrast to emerging democracies in other regions, such as Turkey, South Africa or India—none of which regard democracy promotion beyond their borders as a priority, Oliver Stuenkel writes for Americas Quarterly.

Brazil’s approach to regional leadership differs from that of the U.S. in a number of ways. The phrases “democracy promotion” or “defense of democracy”—favorites of U.S. policymakers—are rarely used in Brasília. Nor does Brazil encourage the kind of activism practiced by U.S. or European NGOs, ranging from political party development, support for independent media and journalists, capacity building for state institutions, and training for judges, civic leaders and legislators.

Further, neither Brazilian civil society nor government has developed the capacity to deploy civilian democracy aid workers around the world, as is the case with European and U.S. NGOs.

Rather, Brazil is, by nature, suspicious of any pursuit of ideological convergence among states. Brazil has no mission civilizatrice or interest in expanding its own ideological agenda around the world, and it is unlikely to elevate its own success into a basis for foreign policy.

Brazil’s approach represents a distinct alternative to the normative approach of Western democracy promotion, which reflects the urge to recreate liberal democracies. Brazil prefers to take preventive action through normative or multilateral means—for example through treaty clauses punishing countries that do not uphold democratic standards, or through institutionalized collective action.

No cause for collision

The different approaches taken by the U.S. and Brazil in the realm of democracy promotion shouldn’t be a cause for collision. Rather, a more nuanced discussion is required about when and how democracy promotion is legitimate, and how it should take place. Given the complexity of the subject, it is natural that Brazil and the U.S. will regularly disagree about how to best defend democracy— even if they share the same general goal. During a political crisis, when decisions must be made quickly and there is often little room for coordinating policies, such disagreements can be sharp.

Still, the U.S. and Brazil— the Western Hemisphere’s two largest players—should consider establishing better channels of cooperation to make sure that clashes over policy toward Venezuela, Honduras or Paraguay can be dealt with collaboratively behind the scenes to create greater stability and consensus on these issues throughout the region.

Brazil rarely justifies its democracy related activities in the context of a larger liberal world view, as do U.S. policymakers. It remains suspicious of the at-times sweeping Wilsonian liberal rhetoric used by U.S. democracy promoters. For this reason, Brazil has not embraced such U.S. ideas or policies to create blocs of democratically elected governments and it eschews terms such as “democracy promotion.”

Fostering collaboration between Brazil and the U.S. could be done more easily by focusing on more technical terms—such as “good governance” or “transparent government”—rather than the ideology-laden liberal “democracy promotion.” At the same time, Washington policy makers must recognize that the Brazilian government will be reluctant to engage in any official pro-democracy alliance with the United States.

Brazil considers its regional credibility to work in areas of democracy to be extremely important, and a close alliance with the U.S. on the U.S.’s terms would undermine that. Maintaining legitimacy and capacity to act is particularly central to Brazil today as its neighbors face rising challenges to democratic stability and norms. Many of the reasons for these challenges stem from the realities Brazil faces at home, such as high inequality and poverty.

Finally, as a growing number of leaders look to China as an economic and political model, Brazil provides an important counter-example: a country where political freedom is not an obstacle to economic growth. Brazil’s emergence as one of the developing world’s most successful democracies may thus do more to enhance democratic ideals than any openly ideological push or activist policy could ever hope to achieve.

Oliver Stuenkel is assistant professor of international relations at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo.

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