Walesa meets Cuban democracy activists

cuba7Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa had an agreement that death annulled, Yoani Sanchez writes for 14ymedio from Warsaw.

The two would go to Havana when the democratic transition occurred to support the process of political and civic reconstruction in our country. The “Cuban change,” however, has been too long delayed and the Czech died before realizing his dream. yoani

For over twenty years I was looking for people to join me to overthrow communism, but very few wanted to join, writes Lech Walesa: 

We had a more difficult situation here because our country came to be occupied by more than two hundred thousand Soviet soldiers and people were enormously afraid. Our struggle was different, for too long we couldn’t organize because the government had a very simple formula against us: disperse, divide and dissolve the democratic forces. We were lucky that a Polish pope was appointed. He joined us first in prayer and faith, but afterwards the opposition also learned to channel that sense of unity brought to us by John Paul II.

Before the appointment of Karol Józef Wojtyla as Pope, I could not muster even ten people, and then ten million joined in. He awakened the nation and said “do not be afraid.”


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Do more to promote democracy, stamp out extremism in Malaysia


malaysia anwarMalaysian opposition MPs have urged Australia to step up and do more to stamp out extremism in the region, as criticism of the Najib government mounts, the Guardian reports:

A group of Malaysian parliamentarians met the Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, to discuss Canberra’s role in promoting democracy in the region. They had planned to appear before the foreign affairs Senate estimates committee, but all inquiries were suspended after the death of Gough Whitlam.

The Malaysian opposition treasury spokesman, Rafizi Ramli, who faces the threat of jail time under Malaysia’s Sedition Act for airing allegations of government corruption, has warned that the ruling UMNO party is ignoring extremism in the country.

“We have a government that has relied heavily on race and religion narratives to campaign,” Ramli said. “In an environment where the state subtly and indirectly endorses criticism and intimidation of minorities, it is easier for the messages of radical groups like Isis [Islamic State] to take hold.

“The Malaysian government is seen as being complicit in endorsing the rise of radicalism for its political manoeuvring and expediency.”

In June this year, the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, urged UMNO members to be brave like Isis fighters.

Dr Clinton Fernandes, an associate professor in international studiesat the University of New South Wales, said inequalities still exist in Malaysia between the Muslim Malay majority and minority groups.

“[The UMNO] ran a particularly ugly campaign in the rural Malay heartlands during the 2013 elections,” he said. “And there were vociferous anti-Chinese headlines in the Malay language press. It regularly warns Malay voters that they should fear dominance by other races.”


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Three massive challenges will decide Afghanistan’s future

afganghaniThe inauguration of Afghanistan’s unity government two weeks ago was a historic event, marking the country’s first peaceful, democratic transition, notes a prominent analyst.

The unity government has had a promising start. Newly elected president Ashraf Ghani (left) delivered a substantive inaugural address, focused on fighting corruption, catalyzing economic development and needed reforms and protecting democratic rights, notes Zalmay Khalilzad, a former US Ambassador to Afghanistan.

Ghani’s prompt signing of a bilateral security agreement with the United States is a major step in repairing relations with Washington, but three massive challenges, however, will determine Afghanistan’s future, he writes for the National Interest:

1. Sustaining Political Unity: Unity governments have a sorry history in Afghanistan. A succession of unity governments since 1979, brokered initially by pro-Soviet communist factions and then by anti-Soviet Mujahideen parties, all collapsed.

Afghanistan(1)The current unity government has several advantages over its predecessors. Most important is the fact that its leaders—Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah—are worldly and have internalized lessons of the past three decades. I know them well, and believe that they are committed to strengthening their fragile unity government. The two leaders have agreed to meet three times a week to build trust and tackle key issues together….

Forming a competent cabinet and appointing merit-based cabinet and lower-level officials should be the highest priority of the president, and the chief executive near-term decisions will shape deliberations in the Constitutional Loya Jirga two years from now. The Loya Jirga will consider amendments to establish a prime-minister position and define its authority over the executive branch. ….

To sustain the unity government, which Secretary of State John Kerry helped broker, the Obama administration will need to break its pattern of catalyzing national compacts, only to celebrate prematurely and disengage in the implementation phase. …

2. Achieving Key Priorities in a Comprehensive Reform Agenda: Ghani and Abdullah have agreed to a comprehensive reform agenda. The practical challenge now is to set priorities that can be addressed in a political culture in which implementation and follow-through remain relative weaknesses.

Three are paramount.

First, electoral accountability and reforms merit early attention. In the wake of recent elections, the unity government’s legitimacy with the Afghan people will depend, in large part, on how much political will it shows in pursuing political accountability for electoral fraud. …

Second, it will be important to invest in new infrastructure. President Ghani calculates that China’s interest in Afghanistan’s mineral resources, its broader geopolitical and economic interests in Central Asia, the Middle East and the use of Pakistan Gwadar port will lead Beijing to invest in Afghan roads, railways and pipelines, actualizing the vision of Afghanistan as a regional land-bridge or roundabout. …

3. Promoting Reconciliation and Peace: Given that the combat role for U.S. and coalition ground forces is ending this year, maintaining security will require progress in reconciliation with the Taliban. The 2016 deadline set by the Obama administration to withdraw international forces is encouraging the opposite. The Taliban calculates that the fragile unity government may not survive the ensuing upheaval.

:Overall, the inauguration of a new government led by two exceptional men represents a hopeful moment for Afghanistan,” Khalilzad notes. “The formation of a unity government, however, is only the first step in a broader political process—one that requires the Afghans to deliver on reforms, and the United States to sustain its engagement in Afghanistan.” 

A board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, Zalmay Khalilzad was the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations.

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As rapper jailed, don’t reward Cuba for denying freedom

A Cuban rapper arrested for distributing pro-democracy fliers in 2013 has been condemned to serve a six-year sentence in the island nation’s brutal political prison system, along with multiple members of a peaceful dissident group aiding his efforts, according to reports 

Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, who goes by the nom de plume “El Crítico” (The Critic), was arrested in March 2013 after a consistent advocacy effort publicly calling for reforms to the communist government. According to the website, the rapper “handed out pro-freedom pamphlets, painted anti-regime messages outside his home and carried out a public discourse in favor of human rights.” ….On Wednesday, according to the group, Arzuaga was sentenced to six years in prison, out of a maximum eight. Alexánder Otero Rodríguez, a member of the UNPACU arrested with Arzuaga, received a five-year sentence, along with two others arrested for the same crimes.

The other day, Fidel Castro wrote an opinion column for Cuba’s state-run newspaper, Granma, lavishing praise on a New York Times editorial that called for an end to the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. the Washington Post reports:

But Mr.Castro had one complaint: The Times mentioned the harassment of dissidents and the still-unexplained death of a leading exponent of democracy, Oswaldo Payá, and a younger activist, Harold Cepero, in a car wreck two years ago. So why has Cuba done nothing to dispel the fog of suspicion that still lingers over the deaths? If the charge is slanderous, then it is long past time for Mr. Castro to order a thorough investigation of what happened on an isolated Cuban road on July22, 2012. So far, there has been only a crude attempt at cover-up and denial.

“While Cuba has toyed with economic liberalization and lifted travel restrictions for some, we see no sign that the Castro brothers are loosening their grip. Fully lifting the embargo now would reward and ratify their intransigence,” the Post notes. “A concession such as ending the trade embargo should not be exchanged for nothing. It should be made when Cuba grants genuine freedom to its people, the goal cherished by Mr. Payá.” RTWT

Philadelphia’s National Public Radio station, WHYY, today carried a lively discussion on Cuba and U.S.-Cuban relations with Baruch College Professor Ted Henken and Center for a Free Cuba Executive Director Frank Calzon who spent most of an hour discussing the recent New York Times editorial, Obama Should End the Embargo on Cuba.

Calzon pointed out that the democratic opposition in Pinochet’s Chile, in Poland under communism, in the South Africa of apartheid, in Burma under the military regime, and under dictatorships elsewhere, and in Cuba today, consistently asked the outside world to put pressure on the regime, not make unilateral concessions.

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Decisive action on Burma’s Rohingya crisis

burmabuddhistterrorA lot has changed here in Burma in the last three years. The government has permitted some movement toward democratic reforms – although much of that progress now appears to have stalled. Not all changes, however, have been positive, writes Human Rights Watch analyst John Sifton.

In the midst of Burma’s recent transformations, caustic and divisive anti-Muslim voices have been on the rise. In May and October 2012 in Burma’s western Arakan State, Buddhists with the backing of local authorities carried out extensive attacks on vulnerable minority Rohingya and other Muslim populations in a campaign of “ethnic cleansing”. … Today most Rohingya in Arakan State live in segregated neighborhoods and camps, unable to travel freely and left with inadequate food, water, sanitation, or access to livelihoods. Unsurprisingly, more than 100,000 Rohingya have fled Burma by boat to Malaysia or Bangladesh. Hundreds are believed to have died in perilous journeys in leaky open boats…..

Meanwhile, at the national level, the government has encouraged the National Assembly to pass overbroad and discriminatory laws on interfaith marriage and religious conversion…. The Burmese government needs to commit to acting against groups such as Ma BaTha or the notorious 969 that have engaged in hate speech inciting violence, discrimination or other crimes. World leaders should make it crystal clear to President Thein Sein that any further signs of connivance between extremist groups and government officials will harm Burma’s efforts to garner more international support. ….


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