US should urge probe of Cuban dissident’s death

Credit: NDI

The Obama administration should back calls for an investigation into the death of a leading Cuban dissident, says the Washington Post:

Nelson Mandela was locked up on Robben Island. Andrei Sakharov was exiled to Gorky. Vaclav Havel was thrown into a Prague jail cell. Aung San Suu Kyi was repeatedly placed under house arrest. All of these courageous, dissident voices were muffled at some time by authoritarian regimes, but in the end, they found their way back to freedom. Oswaldo Payá [left] of Cuba never got that chance.

His daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, this week presented a petition signed by 46 activists and political leaders from around the world to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, calling for an international and independent inquiry into Payá’s death.

“Mounting and credible allegations that the Cuban government may have been complicit in the murder of its most prominent critic, a leading figure in the human rights world, cannot go ignored by the international community,” said the appeal, organized by the UN Watch human rights NGO.

“After Mr. Payá’s death, the White House paid tribute to him, saying, ‘We continue to be inspired by Payá’s vision and dedication to a better future for Cuba, and believe that his example and moral leadership will endure,’” the Post notes:

When pro-democracy activists were arrested and beaten at his funeral, the White House again spoke up. But in the past week, since Mr. Carromero’s interview was published, the administration has not uttered a word. What if it had been Sakharov, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mandela or Havel who was run off the road? Would it have said nothing?

“At this critical juncture, with new information at hand, the United States ought not to be complicit in silence about who killed Oswaldo Payá,” the Post concludes.

In 2002, Payá initiated the Varela Project, a mass petition calling on Cuba’s Communist authorities to guarantee constitutional rights. He was killed alongside fellow activist Harold Cepero in a car crash in July. The car’s driver, Spanish rights advocate Ángel Carromero, was imprisoned on charges of vehicular homicide, but released to Spain in December. He told the Washington Post last week that the car was hit by a vehicle with official license plates.

Shortly after the crash, Payá’s widow, Ofelia Acevedo, said that a survivor of the crash had sent text messages from his cell phone reporting that the car crashed after it was repeatedly rammed by another vehicle. 

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo yesterday told Berta Soller, the leader of the dissident Ladies in White, that the European Union will continue its tough “common position” toward the Communist regime:

Garcia-Margallo offered Spain’s help in a “transition” to democracy in Cuba, drawing on the Iberian nation’s not about to tolerate criticism,” said the National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman:

Visiting Bayamo with foreigners — the two survivors of the crash were fellow Catholics from Spain and Sweden — crossed another red line. The city is the center of the cholera outbreak in the eastern part of Cuba, and for the regime, the disease is not just a medical problem but also an economic and political threat. ….The spread of the disease also challenges Cuba’s self-image as a medical superpower and could arouse anger in citizens who believe that sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela and other countries detracts from the care they receive at home. The fact that Bayamo has experienced labor unrest the past two years and was a rebel stronghold during Cuba’s war of independence against Spain and the uprising against Batista further arouses the regime’s anxiety.

“He had said they were going to kill him. And this was the third accident he had this year,” charged Martha Beatriz Roque, a well-known dissident economist.

The Communist regime had a further incentive to remove Paya, said analysts.

“What really distinguished him was that unlike almost all the others, he engaged in retail politics,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba expert with the Lexington Institute. “His Varela Project stands out as the only initiative of its time that enlisted citizen participation on a large scale. No one else did that, before or since.”

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How the Muslim Brotherhood ‘hijacked’ Syria’s revolt

The Brotherhood believed SNC leader, Moaz al-Khatib ‘could be easily steered’

“Most importantly, the Brotherhood has successfully opposed attempts to outline how the transitional period will be managed — an ambiguity the group no doubt hopes it will be able to exploit to seize a leadership role after Assad’s fall,” he writes in Foreign Policy:

In June 2011, a major meeting was organized in Istanbul by the Arab League to restructure the Syrian National Council, and U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told the opposition that the council must subject itself to an independent committee that would lay out internal reforms if it hoped to win greater American support. The committee met in Cairo in July 2011 and presented draft documents that outlined the transitional period, laying out the duties of opposition forces and detailing the fate of armed factions. They also included an important article criminalizing the use of political the founding statements of the Syrian National Coalition, established in Doha in November 2012.

The Islamist group has also benefited from its allies and sponsors in Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt, Hassan writes:

Al Jazeera, the Qatari-owned polished the image of anti-regime Islamists in its coverage. The Brotherhood also carefully selected leaders who can be easily controlled or who have minimal leadership skills. According to a appointment of the Syrian National Coalition’s current leader, Moaz al-Khatib (above), because it thought he could be easily steered as he was a “good-hearted mosque preacher.”

Khatib has proved that the Brotherhood underestimated him by unshackling himself from its control, unilaterally announcing a brave initiative for dialogue with the regime. For his defiance, he has since been subject to fierce attacks from the Brotherhood and its allies: The SNC criticized Khatib for “taking personal decisions,” while the Brotherhood itself rejected the initiative as “undisciplined and inadequate.”

“The Muslim Brotherhood knows it has a long way to go before taking control of Syria,” Hassan concludes. “But its power grabs have already played a major role in perpetuating the current crisis, and they bode ill for its role in the new Syria.”

Hassan Hassan is an editorial writer for the United Arab Emirates-based National. Follow him on Twitter:@hhassan140.

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Leading Democrat elected to chair National Endowment for Democracy

Martin Frost has been elected Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

Frost, a prominent Democrat who represented the 24th district of Texas in the House of Representatives for thirteen terms (1979-2005), succeeds Richard A. Gephardt , who served as NED Chairman since January 2009.  Gephardt leaves the NED Board after nine years of service, the maximum allowed under NED’s by-laws.  First elected to the NED Board in 2009, Frost was unanimously elected by NED’s bipartisan Board of Directors.

Frost served in the House Democratic Leadership during his tenure in Congress, and chaired a special House Task Force from 1990-95 established to help eastern and central European nations transition to democracy after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Long before he joined the NED Board, Martin Frost demonstrated his commitment to advancing democracy abroad,” said NED President Carl Gershman.

“His leadership in the US Congress of the Frost-Solomon Task Force reflected the same kind of international solidarity and assistance that NED has embodied for the past 30 years,” he said. “His intuitive understanding of NED’s mission combined with his political experience will be of great benefit to the thousands of ‘small-d democrats’ NED assists around the world.”

Thanking the outgoing chairman for his service, Gershman said, “Dick Gephardt ’s leadership has helped to keep the Endowment strong during a time of great political turmoil.  He has upheld NED’s strong bipartisan tradition and his example will be of great benefit to our new Chairman. “

The National Endowment for Democracy was created in 1983 as a private, nonprofit, grant-making foundation with a mission to strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts. With an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress, the NED Board, which is independent and bipartisan, makes more than a thousand grants each year to support prodemocracy groups in nearly 90 countries. The Endowment supports projects that promote political and economic freedom and participation, human rights, a strong civil society, independent media and the rule of law.

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New pope should promote ‘moral foundations’ of democracy

“Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (left) greeted crowds in Rome’s St Peter’s Square today after his election as the Catholic Church’s new Pope, Francis,” the BBC reports. “The 76-year-old from Buenos Aires is the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to be pontiff.”

The new pope should be “a charismatic, missionary culture warrior, challenging the world’s democracies to rebuild their moral foundations,” writes a leading observer.

“As an advocate for religious freedom in full and religious freedom for all, the new pope can help to strengthen civil society and its free institutions, which are both elementary schools of democracy and barriers against the encroachment of the Leviathan state,” says George Weigel, author of Evangelical Catholicism and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

When conceived in strictly functional terms, democracy demeans itself, and the gears of democratic politics too often freeze, as we have seen in venues ranging from the U.S. Congress to the Greek parliament. Democracy is more than the institutions of democracy; it takes a certain kind of people, living certain virtues, to make democracy work.

Weigel appreciates that the church faces similar challenges to those facing an earlier generation and the need to “forge a new Catholic encounter” with the realities of modern political and economic life, notes Julianne Dolan of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.:

Weigel notes that Vatican II was built upon changes set in motion under the papacy of Leo XIII (1878-1903). Leo took over a church truly under siege—the Italian risorgimento had overrun the Papal States, making the pontiff a “prisoner of the Vatican.”

“The rapidly expanding working class of an industrializing Europe was leaving the Church in large numbers,” Mr. Weigel writes. “European high culture was becoming increasingly secularized—indeed, hostile to biblical religion.”

Leo didn’t respond in kind; instead, Mr. Weigel suggests, he …. pushed the church toward advocating religious freedom rather than relying on the sponsorship of governments. He reshaped Catholic social teaching with his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, which defined the rights of workers and the poor in an industrialized world.

The new pope should promote a morally rigorous conception of democracy, writes Weigel (right).

“Can democracy ‘long endure’ if democracies lack a critical mass of citizens who cherish the common good as well as individual freedom, who complement self-reliance with voluntary charitable service to others, and who understand that they have obligations to future generations, not just to me, myself and I?” he asks.

“A pope who calls the West out of the sandbox of self-absorption and into a nobler vision of human possibility could do wonders for the democratic project.”

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Five traps for Putin

Vladimir Putin has been president of Russia for 13 years and if his grip over the establishment remains as tight as it is now, many fear he could reign for the rest of his life, writes Ben Judah. Since December 2011, when more than 100,000 protesters gathered in Moscow demanding free elections, Putin and his colleagues have regained control of events. But the disintegration of the protest movement is not the same as the return to stability, he writes in the latest of the Legatum Institute’s Transition Series.

The KGB always thought Putin was ?awed and his professional instructors evaluated the future leader as suffering from a “lowered sense of danger”. Currently, this is truer than ever. Though it may not appear so on the surface, the era of ‘managed democracy’ and ‘Putinism by consent’ is coming to an end.

This report identi?es ?ve ‘traps’ or risks to Putin’s grip on power and to Russia’s stability in general.

The Affluence Trap

Putin’s popularity was once easy to explain: the richer Russia became, the stronger his regime. At the end of the 1990s, the old Soviet middle class—intelligentsia and managers employed by the state—had been destroyed, but a new middle class was yet to be born. Putin’s political rhetoric was designed to appeal to losers of market reform—déclassé former soviet bureaucrats and others who had lost their positions since 1991. The leading Kremlin spin-doctor, Gleb Pavlovsky, described the regime’s political vision as:

“What made it possible for us to create such a long-fixed Putin majority? The victorious majority of the 2000s was built on vengeful losers—state employees, pensioners, workers, and the unanimously cursed and universally despised bureaucratic power structures.”

In per capita terms, Russia is now the richest major country in the world that is not a democracy. The only wealthier authoritarian countries are small petro-states or city-states, such as Singapore. Russia is also, in per capita terms, by far the richest of the BRIC economies: incomes are over twice those of China and the middle class is proportionally double in size. This new Russian middle class has swelled—now making up over a third of the population. Some 15 percent of Russians earn over $50,000 a year. Russians are also connected to the rest of the world: every year more than 10 million Russians travel abroad and as many as 1 million are living or studying in the European Union.

But as living standards rose over the past decade, the bureaucracy did not improve and the state did not modernize at the same rate. On the contrary, when the country experienced a sudden wave of prosperity in the 2000s, Putin massively expanded the bureaucracy. The number of government officials grew by two-thirds. Most of these new officials, who owed their jobs to the Kremlin, were encouraged to join Putin’s United Russia party. At the same time, the authorities gutted the institutions that could provide bureaucratic accountability, such as independent courts, parliament, and regional assemblies…..

The opposition meanwhile failed to campaign beyond Moscow and failed to link up with the civil society initiatives that had been created in other regions, nor did they develop a language that could appeal to the provincial or the poor. Self-consciously elitist, it was easy to caricature. Despite successful online elections, the Opposition Coordination Council, created to manage the movement, was widely mocked as a pointless talking shop.

Yet the opposition’s failure does not necessarily spell Putin’s triumph.

In late 2012 the Centre for Strategic Research, a think tank originally created to advise Putin, warned that “data from the Moscow middle class focus groups suggest that attitudes towards Vladimir Putin among the members of that strata have changed from negative to hostile and alienated”.

The Technology Trap

The Russian blogosphere has developed into a large and powerful alternative mass media. Research points to a clear liberal and nationalist cluster among online sites, but not to a ‘Putin’ cluster.

The authorities are trying to build a new repressive toolkit—the FSB has expanded its teams working on the Internet and a list of banned websites is being drawn up and expanding rapidly—but for the moment, it does not seem to have technical capacity to copy Beijing and impose full Internet search censorship. As Internet use continues to increase and as TV news audiences continue to drop, the Kremlin’s monopoly on information, so important to maintaining Putin’s power in the 2000s, will also decline further. A real clampdown on the Internet would also be such an assault on how Russian life has evolved since Putin assumed power that it would likely reignite social protest.

The Culture Trap

By 2010 Russia had the largest Internet market in Europe, the greatest rate of online penetration among the BRIC developing countries, and one of the most engaged social networks on earth.

The culture trap is coming together in Moscow. Whereas Russia may be an ageing society the capital is remarkably youthful due to an exodus from industrial and rural regions—over a third of its population is aged under 35. This leaves the city vulnerable to sudden youth-led protests. The crackdown cowed the opposition but humiliated its supporters among the city’s middle classes.

A new generation of oligarchs is now also snapping at the heels of its predecessors. They cannot be relied on to cling to Putin forever.

The Financial Trap

Economic policy, once a source of stability and consensus, has increasingly divided the Russian political and business elite. Not since the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003 have there been such vocal disagreements. Alexey Kudrin, the former ?nance minister, has publicly warned that unless the Kremlin reigns in spending it will be exposed to dangerous economic shocks. Igor Sechin, chief executive of the state energy giant Rosneft, has also gone out of his way to obstruct Medvedev’s ambitious privatization agenda.

Other leading officials have been openly at odds with one another as well. These bitter disputes are corroding Putin’s once unchallenged role as arbiter in chief. Not only is the Russian economy vulnerable to an economic crisis thanks to state spending, in other words, but the Russian president is vulnerable too.

The Anti-Corruption Trap

Corruption poses an almost intractable dilemma for Putin. In order to regain popular trust he needs to root out corruption. But if he does so, he will undermine the very foundations of his regime, which has used corruption to secure the loyalty of the elite.

At the moment, the opposition is not strong enough to oust Putin, but Putin is not strong enough to destroy the opposition either. No longer able to control the country through careful manipulation, Putin is now deploying classic police state methods against his opponents. There is no guarantee he will succeed: never before has the country had such a large, politically astute middle class. The more coercion is used against its members, the more they may ?ght back. But one thing is certain—Putin’s current tactics trade long-term stability for short-term security.

Ben Judah is the author of Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin published by Yale University Press and a visiting fellow at the European Stability Initiative, in Istanbul.

This is an extract from a longer report from the Legatum Institute’s Transition Series. RTWT

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