Wednesday, December 13, 2017

There is a dictatorship in Venezuela but there is also a democratic opposition struggling to be free

Venezuela's democratic opposition honored by the European Union

Earlier today, Julio Borges, head of the opposition-led National Assembly upon receiving the European Union's Sakharov Prize on behalf of the entire Venezuelan democratic opposition warned "[t]he regime has kidnapped democracy, and installed hunger and misery." On December 10, 2017 Venezuelan strong man Nicolas Maduro announced that main opposition parties would be banned from participating in the 2018 presidential elections.

"Since the beginning of [2017], more than 130 opponents have been murdered and more than 500 have been arbitrarily imprisoned [in Venezuela]" reported the European Parliament.

Brief Background on Venezuela
Venezuela overthrew a military dictator on January 23, 1958, a transition government prepared elections that were held in December 1958. On February 13, 1959 social democrat Rómulo Betancourt took office and served out a full term leaving on March 13, 1964.

Including Betancourt eight different presidents representing three different major opposition parties that had competitive elections in Venezuela ruled the country from 1959-1999. There was one failed and bloody coup attempt in 1992 led by Hugo Chavez that was put down. 

Hugo Chavez won the presidency of Venezuela in 1999 and began dismantling Venezuela's democracy. Survived a military coup attempt in 2002, but died in office in 2013. Chavez's successor Nicolas Maduro outlawed opposition parties and has erected a full blown dictatorship.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Democratic Cuba's forgotten role in lobbying for and drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Democratic Cuba's leadership in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and lobbying for the establishment of a UN human rights commission in 1945.

One of the great lies of the Castro regime, and there are many, is the claim that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains rights that are alien to Cubans. Fidel Castro claimed that "[y]our political concepts of liberty, equality, justice are very different from ours. You try to measure a country like Cuba with European ideas. And we do not resign ourselves to or accept being measured by those standards." However the Cuban dictator failed to mention that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was an initiative led by Latin Americans, and Cubans in particular. Furthermore that language placed in the Declaration was taken from the 1940 Cuban Constitution. Cuban diplomats invited Winston Churchill to lunch at the Cuban Embassy in London in December of 1945 and proposed the creation of a human rights commission for the United Nations. Beginning in 1945 Cuba took part in the drafting of the declaration and submitted nine proposals of which five made it into the final document.

The late Bishop Agustín Román on December 16, 2006 spoke of this chapter in Cuban history and "the important role the delegation of the Republic of Cuba to the United Nations in 1948 in the drafting and promulgation of the Universal Charter, particularly by Drs. Dihigo Ernesto, Guillermo Belt, and Guy Pérez-Cisneros is a historical fact."

The final draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 was recognized by these Cuban diplomats as one that would have been “accepted by that generous spirit who was the apostle of our independence: Jose Marti, the hero who -- as he turned his homeland into a nation -- gave us forever this generous rule: ‘With everyone and for the good of everyone.’”

This morning in The Miami Herald's letters to the editor section, Pablo Pérez-Cisneros Barreto, the son of Guy Pérez-Cisneros y Bonnel, wrote of this family and national legacy that is bound up in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
    My late father believed that the declaration is the fruit of the great efforts of our civilization and human progress, a unique moment in which humanity came of age in its civic education; that it is also a source of inspiration for the formation of today’s citizens, and not cause for divisions among them. [...] Cuba had the distinction of being the country that proposed the finished declaration be put up for its final UN vote on Dec. 10, 1948. Hard to believe now but Cuba was once a leader when it came to human rights. And it is important to note that nine initiatives proposed in 1945’s Cuba became part of the final declaration, and that Cuba was the country that entrusted the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations in San Francisco to prepare the declaration as early as 1946. The third preamble of the declaration is a copy of one of the articles of the famed 1940 Cuban Constitution, and Cuba had the initiative to include in the declaration the right to honor one’s human rights and reputation, as well as protect citizens against arbitrary government interference in their private lives.  Cuba presented the first amendment to the draft declaration which was accepted, adding the right of citizens of any member country to follow the vocation they choose. Cuba presented a second amendment which was also accepted — the right of every worker to receive an equitable and satisfactory payment for their work.
In December of 2008 at the offices of the Cuban Democratic Directorate we met with Pablo Pérez-Cisneros Barreto, who discussed his father's role in the drafting of the declaration in the later 1940s. This history is not well known.

The Castro regime claims to be a nationalist regime proud of Cuba's accomplishments, but when it comes to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the role played by a democratic Cuba in 1948 in its drafting, it is silent.

Activists arrested in Cuba on human rights day in 2015 for peacefully assembling
Furthermore the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is banned in Cuba. Possession of the human rights declaration has been presented in evidence against nonviolent dissidents and human rights defenders in Cuba. Copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been burned.

December 10th, the day it was signed and that is observed around the world as Human Rights Day, in Cuba is a day of heightened surveillance and repression. 

Agents cover Lázaro Yuri Valle's mouth to stop him shouting Viva human rights!
There are two traditions competing for control in Cuba. One tradition, embodied by the Castro regime, based on violence and the destruction of the other has dominated Cuba's political discourse for over half a century. It views dissent as treason and demands unanimity; the only acceptable ideas are the regime's. The second, an older tradition that built the institutions of Cuban democracy in the 19th Century using civic means, who founded companies with a social conscience such as Bacardi that contributed to the common good until forced out of their homeland, and of the democrats who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

This is the reason why the Castro regime has sought to bury this human rights legacy of the Cuban Republic and why it is so hostile to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Call for UN officials to reflect on their obligations on International Human Rights Day

“It was never the people who complained of the universality of human rights, nor did the people consider human rights as a Western or Northern imposition. It was often their leaders who did so.”
Mr. Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General

On Sunday, December 10, 2017 the United Nations will begin a year long effort to honor and celebrate the 70th anniversary in 2018 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein recognizes that “we should be under no illusions: the legacy of the Universal Declaration is facing threats on many fronts.”

Unfortunately one of those fronts is the United Nations itself.

Three times in 2016 the United Nations honored an enemy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when the international body on December 1, 2016 at the United Nations General Assembly held a moment of silence for Fidel Castro in New York City. Five days later on December 6, 2016 at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva Switzerland another moment of silence was held for Fidel Castro ignoring the dictator's terrible human rights record. Two weeks later on December 20, 2016 the General Assembly of the United Nations once again paid tribute to the dead Cuban tyrant. Paying homage to this murderous dictator multiple times undermines a central pillar of the United Nations and that is the defense of human rights.

Since 1959, Cuba has under the Castro brothers been subjected to a Marxist Leninist dictatorship that does not recognize international human rights standards as outlined in the declaration the UN wishes to honor over the course of 2018. Fidel Castro in a 1986 interview addressed the matter:
"Bourgeois liberties, no. We have two different concepts of freedom. Europeans have one, we have another.  Capitalism and socialism are not at all alike. Your political concepts of liberty, equality, justice are very different from ours. You try to measure a country like Cuba with European ideas. And we do not resign ourselves to or accept being measured by those standards."
The claim by Mr. Castro that bourgeois liberties are alien to the Cuban experience because they emerged in Europe is not correct. The synthesis of civil-political and socioeconomic rights found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Europeans subscribe to  emerged out of the Latin American experience. Furthermore, it was Latin American diplomats that pushed hard for a human rights charter following World War II and the first international human rights charter was a regional one The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man that was adopted in Bogota, Colombia on May 2, 1948.

Banned in Cuba as enemy propaganda
The Castro regime has banned and censored the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Cuba, presented copies of the declaration in criminal cases against nonviolent dissidents, and internationally has sought to undermine international human rights standards. This has led to the gutting of international human rights standards and hobbled independent UN officials with a Code of Conduct in 2007 that provides leverage to outlaw regimes on the UN Human Rights Council.  On March 28, 2008 the Castro regime’s delegation together with the Organization of Islamic Congress (OIC) successfully passed resolutions undermining international freedom of expression standards at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

This led to the spectacle in July of 2017 of  Virginia B. Dandan, the United Nations "independent" expert on human rights and international solidarity who visited Cuba, a totalitarian dictatorship, and at a press conference when asked if she would meet or consult with the democratic opposition stated: "I do not know what you mean by opposition. I honestly do not know who is in the opposition." 

There have been members of the democratic opposition who have achieved international recognition. For example Cuban democratic opposition leader Oswaldo Payá received the Sakharov Prize in 2002 and addressed members of the the European Parliament on December 17, 2002 presenting his nonviolent vision for change.
The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: “You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together.” This is the liberation which we are proclaiming.
Oswaldo was killed, along with Harold Cepero, on July 22, 2012 in what appears to have been an extrajudicial killing organized by state security. 

Oswaldo's successor, Eduardo Cardet, was arrested on November 30, 2016 for offering a critical assessment of Fidel Castro's legacy.  Lamentably Ms. Dandan did not know of his existence despite Mr. Cardet being an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. 

This led an opposition publication to publish an oped titled: "Virginia Dandan, the expert who does not ask questions."

In November of 2017 the visit of Alfred de Zayas, the UN "expert on promotion of a democratic and equitable international order” to Venezuela was questioned by UN Watch because of his track record of  overt support for the Chavista regime in Venezuela and Castro regime in Cuba. UN Watch observed that "after 15 years of [Venezuela] rejecting repeated requests by separate monitors on arbitrary detention, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, independence of the judiciary and arbitrary executions." 

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is right when he says that:“[w]e must organize and mobilize in defence of human decency, in defence of a better common future… We must take a robust and determined stand: by resolutely supporting the human rights of others, we also stand up for our own rights and those of generations to come.” 

Unfortunately, sending experts who will look the other way or only repeat regime talking points falls far short of defending human dignity and decency. Nor does honoring tyrants and dictators.

Sadly, the United Nations paid homage in December 2016 on three occasions to a dictator who spent a lifetime undermining the human rights of others. Cuban human rights defenders were imprisoned for offering a critical assessment of Fidel Castro's rule in Cuba while the UN stood in silence to honor the systematic human rights violator

UN officials should engage in a serious and "profound reflection" on their actions to ensure that they do not continue undermining their own mission. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Remembering some of the victims of Cuban communism: Murdered Ethiopian student Sofia Ayele

"Whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world." - Mishnah  (1135-1204)
Sofia Ayele
Some psychologists argue that as the number of victims increase into the hundreds, and thousands that compassion collapses out of the human fear of being overwhelmed. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin put it more succinctly: "When one man dies it's a tragedy. When thousands die it's statistics." In the case of Cuba the communist regime has killed tens of thousands, and many have become numb in the face of this horror. Therefore on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first communist regime in Russia, that caused so much harm around the world, will focus on an infinitesimal sampling of some of the victims of Cuban communism.  

The tenth entry concerns Sofia Ayele, student arrested for unknown reasons during the Red Terror in Ethiopia. She was imprisoned in the "Kefetegna 15" (Higher 15) prison in Addis Ababa. She was murdered in February of 1978.

Previous entries in this series were about Cubans trying to change the system nonviolently. The first entry concerned Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a humble bricklayer turned courageous human rights defender who paid the ultimate price in 2010 for speaking truth to power.  The second entry focused on Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, a Catholic lay activist, nonviolence icon, husband, father of three and the founder of a Cuban opposition movement that shook up the Castro regime with a petition drive demanding that human rights be respected and recognized in Cuba. This action and speaking truth to power led to his extrajudicial killing in 2012. The third entry focused on one of the great crimes of the Castro regime that has been well documented by international human rights organizations and reported on ABC News Nightline that claimed the lives of 37 men, women, and children. They were trying to flee the despotism in Cuba to live in freedom and were extrajudicially executed. In the fourth focused on an act of state terrorism when two planes were shot down on a Saturday afternoon at 3:21 and 3:27 on February 24, 1996 over international airspace while engaged in a search and rescue flight for Cuban rafters killing four humanitarians. Their planes were destroyed by air-to-air missiles fired by a Cuban MiG-29 aircraft on the orders of Raul and Fidel Castro.  

In the fifth focused on Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Wilman Villar Mendoza who died on hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment on January 19, 2012 at the age of 31 left behind two little girls, a young wife and grieving mother. The sixth entry focused on one of the many non-Cuban victims of Cuban communism. Joachim Løvschall was studying Spanish in Havana in the spring of 1997. He was gunned down by a soldier of the Castro regime in Havana, Cuba twenty years ago. The identity of the soldier was never revealed to Joachim's family. No one was ever brought to justice.  The seventh entry focused on a young woman, Yunisledy Lopez Rodriguez, who tried to warn a friend who was being targeted by the secret police for a violent end. They went to the authorities to make a formal complaint, but nothing happened. Four months later she was murdered in front of her two children stabbed 18 times. Eight months later her friend was the victim of a brutal machete attack and nearly killed. Yunisledy was just 23 years old.  The eighth entry focused on Yuriniesky Martínez Reina, a young men shot in the back and killed by a state security agent in 2015. His "crime"? Building a boat with other friends to flee the Castro dictatorship and live in freedom. The ninth entry focused on student leader Pedro Luis Boitel, who fought by Fidel Castro's side to bring an end to the Batista dictatorship and restore Cuban democracy. However as Castro came to impose a communist regime on Cuba and to achieve that the University could no longer be a bastion of academic freedom and independent student activism. This led to this young man opposing the regime and being sent to prison for 11 years in 1961. He served his sentence, but the dictatorship refused to free him. This drove Pedro Luis Boitel to start a hunger strike that ended in his death in 1972. 
Fidel Castro lounging with Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia in 1977
Sofia Ayele, a student arrested for unknown reasons during Ethiopia's Red Terror. Sofia was imprisoned in the Kefetegna 15 prison in Addis Abeba. She was jailed in an Ethiopian prison during the Red Terror, and extrajudicially executed by Kefelgn Alemu Worku, a prison guard,  in February of 1978 but the intellectual authors of this crime were Cuban intelligence officials engaged in counterinsurgency warfare in Ethiopia. This included targeting students, like Sofia Ayele, and children considered a potential threat. 

During 1977-78, a conservative estimate of over 30,000 Africans perished as a result of the Red Terror unleashed in Ethiopia by the communists and their Cuban allies. Amnesty International concluded that "this campaign resulted in several thousand to perhaps tens of thousands of men, women, and children killed, tortured, and imprisoned." Sweden's Save the Children Fund lodged a formal protest in early 1978 denouncing the execution of 1,000 children, many below the age of thirteen, whom the communist government had labeled "liaison agents of the counter revolutionaries." Donald R. Katz in the September 21, 1978 Rolling Stone article "Ethiopia After the Revolution: Vultures Return to the Land of Sheba" gave the following description of the wave of terror and repression unleashed by Mengistu.
"Toward the middle of last year [1977], Mengistu pulled out all the stops. "It is an historical obligation," he said then, "to clean up vigilantly using the revolutionary sword." He announced that the shooting was about to start and that anyone in the middle would be caught in the cross fire. In what came to be known as the "Red Terror," he proceeded to round up all those who opposed the military regime. According to Amnesty International, the Dergue killed over 10,000 people by the end of the year. One anti-government party, mostly made up of students and teachers, was singled out as 'the opposition.'"
Like Venezuela today, the murder of students suspected of being political opposition was a practice aided and abetted by Cuban state security agents present on the ground in Ethiopia in the 1970s.

Fidel and Raul Castro were both deeply involved in sending 17,000 Cuban troops to South Africa to assist Mengistu in consolidating his rule and eliminating actual and potential opposition. The last Cuban troops did not leave Ethiopia until 1989 and were present and complicit in the engineered famine that took place there. Cuban troops would round up starving Ethiopian farmers when they got close to the cities, with grain stores, and drove them back out into the countryside to starve.

Raul and Fidel Castro with war criminal Mengistu
Human Rights Watch in their 2008 report on Ethiopia titled outlined "Collective Punishment War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali Region" some of the practices carried out by Cuban troops sent there by Fidel and Raul Castro excerpted below

Africa Watch (the precursor to Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division) analyzed Ethiopian counter-insurgency operations in this period and found that they followed a four-pronged approach: i) the forced displacement of much of the civilian population into shelters and protected villages; ii) military offensives against people and economic assets outside the shelters; iii) the sponsoring of insurgent groups against the WSLF and Somali government; and iv) attempts to promote the repatriation of refugees.23 In December 1979, a new Ethiopian military offensive, this time including Soviet advisors and Cuban troops, “was more specifically directed against the population’s means of survival, including poisoning and bombing waterholes and machine gunning herds of cattle.”24
 Mengistu was found guilty of genocide in Ethiopia on December 12, 2006, and was sentenced to life in prison in January 2007. He was sentenced to death in absentia on May 26, 2008 following an appeal. Mengistu currently resides in Zimbabwe under the protection of African dictator Robert Mugabe. Question now arises that if Mugabe is forced to resign, will the new government turnover the now 80-year old war criminal to Ethiopian authorities to face justice?

In the same manner that Fidel Castro defended the revolution in Cuba in the early 1960s exterminating Cuban peasants who resisted the imposition of communist rule, with the critical help of 400 Russian advisors, and forcibly moved populations around. This practice was repeated in Ethiopia. "Resettlement was portrayed as a key part of the government’s relief efforts, although it was in fact a component of their counterinsurgency strategy (similar resettlement programs had occurred in southeast Ethiopia and Eritrea). This blunt policy of “draining the sea to catch the fish” occurred in three phases: November 1984 – May 1985, October 1985 – January 1986, and November 1987 – March, 1988."
The Castro brothers were involved in genocide and terror in Ethiopia
 Charles Lane of The Washington Post in the December 1, 2016 article "Castro was no liberator" outlined Cuban involvement in the Red Terror in Ethiopia:
Mengistu participated in a successful military coup against the U.S.-backed Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, eventually seizing power on Feb. 3, 1977,by massacring his rivals in the officer corps. Castro admired this bloody deed as a preemptive strike against “rightists” that showed “wisdom” and cleared the way for Cuba to support Mengistu “without any constraints,” as he explained to East German dictator Erich Honecker in an April 1977 meeting whose minutes became public after the fall of European communism. [...] With the Cuban forces watching his back, Mengistu wrapped up his bloody campaign of domestic repression, known as “the Red Terror,” and sent his own Soviet-equipped, Cuban-trained troops to crush a rebellion in Eritrea. The last Cuban troops did not leave Ethiopia until September 1989; they were still on hand as hundreds of thousands died during the 1983-1985 famine exacerbated by Mengistu’s collectivization of agriculture. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Conservative counter-revolution and chocolate pastry.

The Austrian Foreign Minister, the chef, the apprentice and the creation of a new dessert

Prince Metternich, Sacher Torte, and Franz Sacher

A few days ago discussed the role of  Prince Klemens von Metternich in securing a conservative order that provided Europe with a century of relative peace and stability. Returning to Austria yesterday came across the story of the origin of the Sacher Torte, a popular chocolate cake, and that Metternich played an important role.

In addition to playing an important role in establishing the Concert of Europe that prevented a major war on the European landmass for 99 years and blocking the revolutionary ambitions of communists and others Prince Metternich was also involved in the development of the Sacher Torte in Vienna in 1832. He had high-ranking guests attending a dinner and wanted the court's kitchen to create a special dessert demanding: Dass er mir aber keine Schand' macht, heut' Abend! ("Let there be no shame on me tonight!"),but his chef was ill and the task of creating the dessert fell to 16-year old Franz Sacher, a second year apprentice at the palace. The new desert, a magnificent chocolate cake, was a success and the Sacher Torte would become famous.

Sacher Torte
It is said in the Bible that by their fruits you shall know them. A century of peace and a delicious desert still enjoyed today across the world speaks volumes about the conservative order established by Metternich in 1815 and the success of the Sacher family, of how an apprentice under the Austrian Prince created great opportunities.

On December 4, 2017 enjoyed a Sacher Torte at one of the restaurants opened by the Sacher family located in Innsbruk, but if you can, visit the original location in Vienna.

"If your heart is weary, you need more sweets." - Anna Sacher