Saturday, December 10, 2016

Human Rights Day in Cuba 2016: From Bad to Worse

International Human Rights Day in Cuba 2016 finds a worsening human rights situation on the island.

Secret police wait outside home of activists in Havana, Cuba early this morning
Human rights have been in decline around the world for over a decade and the situation in Cuba, that was already bad, has also worsened. International Human Rights Day presents an opportunity to reflect on what is going on today.

The headquarters of one of Cuba's most important civic nonviolent movements, the Ladies in White is at this hour under surveillance in anticipation that this organization may want to commemorate international human rights day.

In Miami at Our Lady of Charity known by Cuban Americans as La Ermita de la Caridad friends of Father Miguel Angel Loredo, who passed away in 2011, gathered at 10:00am to remember the life and legacy of this former prisoner of conscience and human rights defender concluding with a midday mass. Nearby the Democracy Movement called for the community to gather and join hands in a Human Chain in Memory of the Victims of Castroism today Saturday December 10th at 12 noon on SW 8 St and 15th Avenue.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration's Cuba policy is having an impact internationally that will negatively impact on human rights in Cuba internally. The latest being the decision of the European Union to "open a new chapter" on relations with Cuba that drops human rights as a condition for normalization and will be the end of a European Common Position adopted in 1996. This arrangement is to be formalized on December 12th.

Meanwhile many remain unjustly imprisoned in Cuba today, but will highlight the following three cases from the past few months:

Eduardo Cardet, medical doctor and opposition leader

Before Eduardo Cardet Concepción returned to Cuba, the secret police detained his wife and told her that the Christian Liberation Movement spokesman had met the wrong people while traveling abroad and would be arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. 

Two days after Fidel Castro's death was announced Eduardo Cardet described events as follows“There are few people in the streets, and lots of police presence. Lots of controls and restrictions. Castro was a man hated and rejected by the Cuban people.”

On November 30, 2016 Eduardo Cardet returned home to Cuba and was brutally beaten and arrested then beaten some more and held incomunicado until December 5th. A criminal case is being fabricated against him in a clumsy attempt by state security to prevent this medical doctor, husband and father of two from being declared a prisoner of conscience. He remains imprisoned today.

Julio Ferrer Tamayo, human rights attorney

Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo is a human rights activist, attorney and member of the Legal Information Center known as Cubalex. He has been arbitrarily detained since September 23, 2016 for demanding that the authorities respect national legislation and the right to associate of nongovernmental organizations of independent civil society.

This is not his first arbitrary detention. On February 20, 2015 he was jailed and denied his freedom for six months accused of contempt against three judges in a tribunal that dealt with Crimes against State Security. He was released on September 21, 2015 and joined Cubalex becoming an active member.

On September 23, 2016 the secret police (Ministry of the Interior) along with other regime agencies raided the offices of Cubalex seizing internal documents and equipment. Amnesty International pronounced itself on this raid.

Danilo Maldonado, graffitti artist
On December 5, 2016 Amnesty International issued the following update on Danilo Maldonado, also known as "El Sexto" which in part details:
On 4 December Danilo Maldonado Machado (also known as ‘El Sexto’) was transferred to El Vivac prison in the outskirts of Havana, the capital of Cuba. His mother was able to visit him on 5 December and told Amnesty International that he now refuses to eat the food provided by the prison for fear of poisoning, but he ate the food brought to him by his mother. Danilo Maldonado was arrested at his home in Havana the morning of 26 November, hours after the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death. That same day, Cuba-based newspaper 14 y medio reported that he had graffitied the words “He’s gone” (Se fue) on a wall in Havana. Nine days after Danilo Maldonado’s arrest, Cuban authorities have still failed to present official charges under an internationally recognized offence against him. The authorities have not informed his mother or his lawyer of the reasons for this detention, nor a date for his release. His family presented a Habeas Corpus request for the preservation of Danilo Machado’s individual rights before the Provincial Court of Havana (Tribunal Provincial de la Habana) on 5 December seeking his immediate release.

Summary on human rights in Cuba
2016 is proving to be a terrible year for human rights in Cuba with 9,484 politically motivated arbitrary detentions in 2016 as of November 30th and levels of religious freedom violations not seen in over a decade. The death of Fidel Castro coincided with an ongoing rise in repression and intimidation of not only dissidents, but the populace in general.

Cubans are still being brutally assaulted in Cuba, many are imprisoned for their beliefs, and some are dying under suspicious circumstances that point to extrajudicial executions carried out by the Castro regime's secret police. Other Cubans have been shot and killed, had their boats and rafts attacked in order to prevent them leaving Cuba. Even human rights lawyers are under threat. The death and funeral of Fidel Castro highlighted the Stalinist nature of Castroism, but many in the mainstream media did not provide this context in their coverage. Although the island remains a police state under Raul Castro and independent media remains outlawed the bits and pieces of real news that escape the censors reveals a regime that systematically violates human rights. Sadly it is also known that visitors to the island are not exempt from these horrors. Unfortunately, too many in the international community continue to give the Castro regime a pass while ignoring those who deserve to be honored. Meanwhile people of goodwill gather together to remember the victims of Castroism in Cuba and appeal for justice.

International Human Rights Day 2016

Friday, December 9, 2016

URGENT: Cuban Democratic Opposition Leader Eduardo Cardet badly beaten up, jailed by secret police faces fabricated charges

"I regret that the EU does not require Cuba to stop being a totalitarian regime." - Eduardo Cardet, over twitter on September 19, 2016

Jailed pro-democracy leader Eduardo Cardet of the Christian Liberation Movement
The Castro regime is attempting to smear the name of a good man, a medical doctor beloved by his patients and a father and husband, because he speaks truth to power and nonviolently requests and demands an end to totalitarian rule in Cuba. Two days after Fidel Castro's death was announced Eduardo Cardet described events as follows: “There are few people in the streets, and lots of police presence. Lots of controls and restrictions. Castro was a man hated and rejected by the Cuban people.” Below, provided by the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), are updates on what has been going on and Eduardo Cardet's biography.


Update: 12/10/16 9:30 Cuba time Listen to the statement by the wife of Eduardo Cardet, Yaimaris Vecino after the first visit to the prison: 20161210 yaimaris vecino.mp3

"The consequences of the beating are still visible" ... "Eduardo was severely beaten in prison, while he was in handcuffs." ... "Despite being charged with a common crime is is state security that is in charge of the case." ... "Security has told me that it is in my hands if he is to be released, if I collaborate with them" and that " they will not permit by any means that Eduardo continue his opposition activity." ... "They have threatened to morally destroy me and my family."

Information update 12/9/16 11:30 Cuba time. Last night they permitted a call to Eduardo Cardet. Very worried he warned his wife to be careful with the police because they want to create conflict. On the other hand, state security is threatening neighbors who saw the violent detention and many are shut-in their homes because of fear.

Information update 12/8/16 20:00 Cuba time Yaimaris Vecino reports that they have obtained the services of a lawyer for the defense of Eduardo Cardet and that on December 9th she will go to the Holguin provisional prison for the first visit.

Information Update:  12/8/16 9:00 Cuba time Yaimaris Vecino tells that yesterday she was able to see her husband briefly before he was transferred to the provincial prison of Holguin. The aftermath of the beating is still evident, especially on his face and his swollen and bruised eyes. He was again taken to the hospital for medical care. .Eduardo Cardet remains firm in his convictions and on the unjust nature of is his detention. 
The case instructor reports that he will ask between 1 and 3 years for the crime of attacking the authority, alleging that it was Eduardo who assaulted the police with the bicycle when he was about to be detained. The family has reached out to several different lawyers in Holguín but until now no lawyer wants to take over his defense, due to the connotations of the case. 
Yaimaris insists that this is a cause fabricated by state security that she had been warned when they detained her 15 days ago, i.e. the regime's intention to arrest Eduardo to neutralize his work as National Coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) especially for the initiative "One Cuban, one vote". On the other hand, many neighbors of Velasco, patients of Dr. Cardet, members of various opposition organizations, and Christian Churches of the area have expressed their solidarity with him.

Information Update 12/7/16 10:00 Cuban time Police reported to the family today that Eduardo Cardet will be transferred to the provisional prison of Holguin waiting for trial with the charges, among others of: assault, public scandal, resistance, etc. 

The MCL denounces that this is a fabricated case against him that for some time had been prepared against him by state security. They have not allowed the family to see Eduardo so it is unknown what his physical condition is after the brutal beating he received during and after the arrest.
Information Update 12/5/16 at 5:40 am Cuban time According to Eduardo Cardet Concepcion’s wife, Eduardo's mother and other relatives and members of MCL showed up at the 1st police unit in Holguín, demanded to be able to see him and they showed him from a distance of about 100 meters . One officer acknowledged that he had arrived beaten up, with a heavy bruise in one eye.

Update 12/4/2016 2pm Cuba time: Yaimaris Vecino, wife of Eduardo Cardet Concepcion. C. N. #MCLiberacion "I have no proof that Eduardo is alive." Yordan Mariño MCL Holguín: "witnesses who saw how they moved Eduardo from one vehicle to another said that because of the beating he could not stand."

Update 12/03/2016 6pm Cuban time: After 72 hours of Eduardo Cardet’s arrest his whereabouts to continue to be unknown. The police told his wife who today came to ask, that until Monday they will not inform her of his whereabouts and that they can keep him incommunicado for up to 7 days. They want to accuse him of resistance, assault and injuries. According to some neighbors, once arrested the police continued to beat him.

Update 12/2/2106 4pm Cuba time: Eduardo Cardet’s whereabouts unknown
Report from Holguín Yordan Mariño, Provincial Coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL). Eduardo Cardet's sister showed up at the police unit where he was supposed to be detained, but no officer could confirm that he was there. The MCL denounces that nothing is known about his whereabouts, nor has his family been allowed to visit him.

Update 12/1/2106 6pm Cuba time: Eduardo Cardet's arrest will be extended to be brought to court for contempt, public scandal, resistance to authority and injuries. Cardet had to be taken care of by doctors in the police unit where he was detained due to several blows that he received mainly a great blow in the head and another in the back.
Information update 11/30/16 Several police officers stop and beat Eduardo Cardet Concepcion National Coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement. The beating was terrible. He is being held in the dungeons of Holguin.

State Security says he "met with those who he should not have during his trip to the United States last week." He is accused of contempt and disrespect to the comandante for the statements he made.
Threatened with 15 years’ imprisonment. His wife was detained for a few hours on Wednesday last week and threatened that as soon as Cardet arrived they would detain him.


Eduardo Cardet Concepción

Eduardo Cardet Concepción (Holguin, Cuba, October 25, 1968) is a Cuban physician, politician, and national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL). He joined the MCL, one of the most important opposition groups to the Communist regime of Cuba then headed by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, in the early 2000s. After the death of Payá on July 22, 2012, the Christian Liberation Movement restructured its leadership. Cardet was appointed national coordinator in November of 2014.

Prior to his appointment as MCL National Coordinator of Christian-Democratic ideology, Cardet had held various responsibilities within the organization. As a member of the movement's coordinating council, he was appointed Vice-President of the Christian Democratic Organization of America (ODCA) on August 23, 2013. He had previously been active in various initiatives of the MCL aimed at achieving a nonviolent transition in Cuba to democracy. He had been a manager of the Varela Project, the Heredia Project, The Peoples Path and One Cuban, one vote.

Cardet, married and with two children, works as a family doctor at the Health Center in the town of Velasco (Holguín province), where he lives. One year before his appointment as leader of the MCL he was expelled from his work in retaliation for his opposition activity as a member of the MCL. However, protests over this measure of punishment and popular pressure allowed him to be readmitted to his job.

Due to his opposition activity Eduardo Cardet has been detained on several occasions. The last time he was taken prisoner by the Cuban Police was last November 30, 2016, shortly after the death of Fidel Castro. The MCL has denounced that on that occasion he also suffered a heavy beating carried out by government agents. The blows, according to the opposition reports, continued in the detention center. Days after his arrest, Cardet’s whereabouts are unknown without news of his state of health.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Joachim Løvschall at 46: Remembering one of Castro's victims

Joachim Løvschall was born 46 years ago today but he did not live to see his 27th birthday. Joachim, a Danish student studying Spanish at the University of Havana was gunned down by an AK-47 wielding Cuban guard as he walked home on the evening of March 29,1997. The body remained hidden for days. The shooter was never identified. Ten years after his son's extrajudicial execution, Christian Løvschall spoke at a parallel forum at the UN Human Rights Council about what had happened. Below is the statement he made in 2007 at the United Nations.

Joachim Løvschall (1970 - 1997)

 The Case of Joachim

Ladies and Gentlemen.

First of all thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you at this meeting here today, where I shall be talking to you about the terrible loss of our son Joachim on the 29th of March 1997, when you have listened to what I have to say I trust you will realize that 1997 will always stay as an "Annus Horibili" in the mind of our family.

To give you an understanding of our feelings and also of what made Joachim travel to Cuba, I will, as a start tell you something about the background of my boy and family.

 We are a quite international oriented family, my wife being a Norwegian national, the children and myself Danish. Our youngest daughter, however, is adopted from India, and joined us in 1978 when she was 3 years old. For about 8 years, in the eighties, we lived in the Middle East, where the children attended international schools. Before going abroad, my wife was for 12 years employed by a traveling agency, which resulted in numerous tours, also for the children, to destinations all over Europe. Furthermore we have hosted 2 international students - Each for a 1/2 a year period - in 1972 and 1974. In my present job I have for the last 17 years been traveling to more than 70 countries all over the world, having thereby established good contacts and, must I say, good friendships. Fortunately the friendships do not exclude anybody because of racial or political differences. On top of this our oldest daughter and two grandchildren are working and living in Norway.

And why do I want to enlighten you on this? My reason is that I want you to understand that Joachim was very much focused on international human relations and enjoyed making friendships across borders. You should know that he spoke seven different languages, and that the purpose of him going to Cuba was to learn the Spanish language. He did so well that he learned that language.

 In 3 months moving from no knowledge to almost speaking Spanish fluently and, as mentioned, all picked up during the 3 months he lived in Havana.

Although the killing took place on the 29th of March, we only came to know about it on the 6th of April - I.E. after 8 days were we had the feeling that the Cuban authorities were unwilling to inform anything about the incident. Only because of good relations with Spanish speaking friends in other Latin American countries did we succeed in getting into contact with the family with whom Joachim stayed and the repeated message from their side was that they could reveal nothing, but that the situation had turned out very bad and that we had to come to Cuba as soon as possible. At the same time all contacts to the responsible authorities turned out negatively, and worst of all we really felt nobody in Havana dared take contact to the police.

Only after continued pressure from our side on the Cuban embassy in Copenhagen, things suddenly changed and the sad information was given to us by our local police on the evening of the 6th of April.

We are, however, 100% convinced that had we not made use of our own contact and had we not continued our pressure on the embassy in Copenhagen, we might have faced a situation where Joachim would have been declared a missing person, a way out the Cuban authorities have been accused of applying in similar cases.

 So where does that leave us:

 We do feel we were (and still are) left with no answers except to maybe one of the following questions: Where, When, Who, Why

Starting out with the where we were told that Joachim was killed by the soldiers outside the Ministry of Interior.

What we do not understand is why no fence or signs did inform that this is a restricted area? I have been on the spot myself, and the place appears exactly like a normal residential area. So you may question whether this in fact was the place of the killing? Contrary to this the authorities keep maintaining that the area was properly sealed off, and the relevant sign posts were in place.

As to when Joachim was killed we only have the information received from the police because of the delay informing one might believe that this is another forgery made up to cover the truth.

The who was in our opinion has never been answered by the Cuban authorities. We understand that a private soldier on duty was made responsible for the killing, and also it has been rumored that his officer in charge has been kept responsible. This is of course the easy way out, but why can't we get to know the whole and true story? 

 Finally the why? Why would somebody kill a fine young man who was serious about his studies and without absolutely and criminal record whatsoever?

Why is it that you are left with the terrible feeling that the truth has never been told, and why is it that the authorities are backing out and covering up?

Why did the soldiers have to fire two shots, one to his body and one to his head, to murder him? Was Joachim violent and did he, an unarmed individual, attack the armed soldiers? Or is it simply that the instruction to Cuban soldiers are: first you shoot and then you ask? But again: Who can explain why two shots were needed?

It is very difficult to understand that in a country working hard to attract tourists from abroad - many of whom are European non-Spanish speaking people - At the same time does not warn you about their special security rules and regulations as well as the non presence of signs of warnings around a building like the Ministry of Interior. I mean if, as a host, I allow somebody into my house, is it then not my responsibility to inform this somebody about the house rules and in case of misunderstandings warn them instead of shooting them?

To me such circumstances demonstrates the complete irresponsibility from the Cuban authorities side, and for sure may cause the reason for future incidents.

We lost our 27 years old boy, and whatever is done from the day he passed away, will never bring him back.

I have been raised in the faith that you are judged by your actions, and I do feel that this should apply to everybody - including a government in power, and you can't help being left with the feeling, that in Cuba the government and the authorities are above any law, resulting in disrespect and contempt for human life.

 I did visit Cuba twice, and from my observations I can only add that I do feel sorry for a people living their lives under a regime not respecting fundamental human rights.

All honor to my son, Joachim, he was a good son and we still miss him very much.

Thank you for listening to me.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

UN Human Rights Council's moment of silence for Fidel Castro

"...[T]here arises a question as to whether those large, serious compromises do not have their origin and roots in precisely these tiny and very often more or less logical compromises." - Vaclav Havel, October 12, 2009, Forum 2000 conference

Photo taken by Cuban Mission to the UN during moment of silence for Castro
Six months ago I wrote a blog post on the existential crisis at the United Nations Human Rights Council that began from the start. "Ten years ago the United Nations Human Rights Council was founded on a small moral compromise that sacrificed human rights oversight in Belarus and Cuba in what U.N. officials called the dawn of a new era. Special rapporteurs with mandates to specifically monitor the human rights situation in those two countries were formally gotten rid of in 2007 and a code of conduct established that undermined the independence of all special rapporteurs."

Reflecting deeper on this crisis came to the conclusion that at the heart of the deteriorating global human rights situation that has gripped humanity for more than a decade is worse than we thought because it goes beyond geopolitical circumstance and to first principles on the nature of human rights that those in positions of power have rejected. Yesterday another manifestation of this crisis manifested itself in a matter of small procedural importance but of profound moral consequences.

On December 5, 2016 delegates of the U.N. Human Rights Council opened a meeting in Geneva by standing silently after Venezuela’s delegation requested a minute of silence to “honor” the late Cuban tyrant Fidel Castro. Meanwhile now in Cuba those Cubans that refuse to mourn the dead dictator are being beaten down, jailed and threatened with 15 year prison terms for speaking out. At least 20 cases have been documented and two high profile examples stand out: the graffiti artist and the medical doctor both jailed for freely expressing themselves: Danilo Maldonado and Eduardo Cardet.

Let us recall that Fidel Castro, the Cuban tyrant, presided over extrajudicial executions of thousands of his countrymen, the destruction of Cuba, twice called for a nuclear first strike on the United States, sponsored terrorism across the world, collaborated with genocidal dictators who murdered millions in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East

Even more outrageous is that while the human rights body honors one of the great human rights violators of the Americas at the same time it ignores a human rights champion who passed away four days later the great nonviolent democrat and human rights defender Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez, former president of Costa Rica and one of the drafters of that great democracy's constitution.

Cuban Americans went out into the streets of Miami to celebrate the departure of Fidel Castro because he was a man who had done much evil and was still capable, while lucid, to do more.

However those who do good in the world like Vaclav Havel and  Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez are sorely missed and we mourn for their absence because we need more human beings like them that lift up humanity defending human dignity while speaking truth to power.

It is a real shame to see that at the heart of what should be the most important human rights body on the planet this simple lesson has been lost due to political expediency and an apparent bankruptcy of fundamental values.

Let us hope that the world's democrats in that august body request a moment of silence for the victims of Castroism and perhaps a candlelight vigil should be held outside of the UNHRC with photos of the many victims of the Cuban dictatorship as was done on Sunday in Washington, DC.

They could also hold a moment of silence for Costa Rica's Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez
and honor a moral exemplar instead of a dictator who collaborated with war criminals in genocide.

Honoring the memory of a brutal and genocidal dictator diminishes the moral authority of the UN Human Rights Council and in that it only benefits the brutal and genocidal regimes around the world leaving the victims ever more at their mercy. 

Requiescat in pace Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez, former president of Costa Rica and friend of free Cubans

Remembering a departed President who co- founded a just and enduring free order in Costa Rica

Luis Alberto Monge Álvarez (December 29, 1925 – November 29, 2016)

Friends of freedom lost a great ally on November 29, 2016 when Luis Alberto MongeÁlvarez passed away he was ninety years old.  At the age of 23, President Monge was the youngest member of the National Constituent Assembly of 1949. He was twice legislator for the PLN (1958-1962 and 1970-1974) and was president of the Legislative Assembly. He was President of Costa Rica for just four years between 1982 and 1986. The current President of Costa Rica declared three days of national mourning on his passing.

President Luis Alberto Monge (Center) surrounded by other former presidents
For Cubans he was a friend of freedom who assisted Cubans resisting tyranny first against Fulgencio Batista and later against Fidel Castro.  In 2004 he was a founding member of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba. Four years later at a gathering of this committee in Costa Rica he spoke clearly in a manner that sadly to many heads of state fail to do today. The following is a cable made public by wikileaks describing this meeting:
Costa Rica continues to be one of the region's leading critics of the Castro government and a strong advocate for democratic change and human rights reforms in Cuba. For instance, on May 20, 2008, the Costa Rican Committee for Solidarity with Democracy in Cuba and the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba hosted a forum on Cuba. Participants included a former ex-president of Costa Rica, a current Costa Rican deputy, an ex-deputy, a Czech diplomat in Costa Rica, and a former Cuban political prisoner. The May 20, 2008 forum highlighted Costa Rica's commitment to freedom and democracy and its criticism of Cuba's abysmal record on human rights. Luis Alberto Monge Alvarez, President of Costa Rica from 1982 to 1986 and a member of President Arias' National Liberation Party (PLN), spoke of "communist occupation" in Cuba. He referred to the "communist dictatorship" of the Castro regime while expressing Costa Rica's solidarity with the Cuban people.
Incidentally Costa Rica has a 96.3% literacy rate, has an excellent universal healthcare system, and a thriving democracy that respects fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. This is no small part due to President Luis Alberto Monge's life time of work and leadership in Costa Rica. He was a politician who practiced what he preached with honesty and transparency and in the process became an elder statesman of Costa Rica.

President Luis Alberto Monge on the right protesting for the freedom of Lech Walesa