Tag Archives: Cuba

Free speech advocate returns to Cuba after world tour

Blogger, free speech advocate and all-around interesting person Yoani Sanchez returned to Cuba after a three-month world tour.

She had invitations from numerous free expression/press freedom organizations around the world. She also was given a number of awards for her advocacy. But the Cuban government kept denying her a passport and an exit visa. (And please note, that Cuba — like other dictatorships — required its people to get a visa to leave the country. The U.S. and other democracies only require visas for people to enter their countries.)Sanchez runs a blog — Generation Y — that has looked at the problems in Cuba and the repressive measures taken by that government to restrict freedom of expression.

 After the Cuban government changed its rules about issuing exit visas, Sanchez applied for one. The Castro government got put in the  uncomfortable position of either giving her a passport and granting the exit visa or rejecting her application. In the latter situation, the Cuban government would have shown it did not mean what it was saying and, therefore, could not be trusted on other issues. So, the issued Sanchez a passport and allowed her to leave the country.

Sanchez traveled throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia. At many of her appearances, pro-Castro people (some at the urging of the local Cuban embassy or consulate) demonstrated and disrupted her appearances.

Some highlights from previous Generation Y postings:

  • Whose Brain Is It? According to Legislative Decree 302 which also regulates the foreign travel of professionals, my own brain — like those of the rest of university graduates — does not belong to me. The folds and grooves of this organ are the property — according to the new law — of an educational system that boasts of being free but later charges us through ownership over our intellect. The authorities who regulate the possibility of leaving this Island believe that a qualified citizen is a simple conglomeration of brain matter “formed” by the State. But claiming the rights to use a human mind is like trying to put gates on the sea… shackles on every neuron.
  • The Ballot Box, The Stretcher This was the cubicle where I voted this morning to elect a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power. Located inside a doctor’s office that was turned into a polling place this Sunday for the residents of the area. “Prescient” I thought of nothing but being alone with my ballot next to the large sink where they wash hospital implements. “Prescient” because my country is in a “coma” of indifference and apathy, and is going to need a profound revival – almost a defibrillation – for citizens to have real decision making power. Thirty-six years since its creation the current electoral system has not convinced us, not even once, that it represents the people against the power, rather we have become accustomed to the exact opposite.
  • Travel and Immigration Reform: Happy or Satisfied After five years of demanding my right to travel outside the country, today I woke up to the news of travel and immigration reform. My first impression was to shout “Hurrah!” mid-morning, but as the day advanced I considered the shortcomings of the new law. Finally the objectionable Permit to Leave has been eradicated, as well as the annoying Letter of Invitation that we needed to leave our own country. However, now in the issuance and validation of passports they will define those who can cross the national frontiers and those who cannot. Although the costs of the paperwork will be less and I imagine the time required shortened, this is not the new travel and immigration law we were waiting for. Too limited, too narrow. But at least it has put in writing a legality as a starting point from which we can now demand, protest, denounce.

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Freedom House: Yoani Sanchez World Tour Review

There is so much to write about Yoani Sanchez’ global tour that it is just better to click on the Freedom House summary   rather than have me copy a bunch of excerpts.

Through Digital Media, Activist Yoani Sánchez Redefines the Borders of Cuban Civil Society

March 21 marked the end of the New York leg of Cuban blogger and activist Yoani Sánchez’s highly publicized international tour. Since beginning the 80-day, 12-country whirlwind of speaking engagements in February, Sánchez, whose blog Generación Y is now translated into nearly 20 languages, has been met with equal measures of protest and warmth in Brazil, Mexico, Europe, and the United States. Arguably the most influential blogger writing within Cuba, Sánchez was denied an exit visa 21 times over the last five years, but she finally received permission to leave the island last month under a broader government initiative to loosen travel restrictions.

While Sánchez’s success in securing a passport after years of formal requests is significant, it would be a mistake to view the shift in exit requirements—or the recent activation of a highly anticipated fiber-optic cable (ALBA-1) to enhance the island’s internet connectivity—as evidence of a sea change in the regime’s attitude toward civil liberties such as freedom of movement and access to information.

Rest of story here.

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Cuban diplomats try to spike Sanchez UN visit

Cuban blogger and dissident Yoani Sanchez was the guest of the United Nations Correspondents Association this week.

The visit was part of Sanchez’s world tour now that exit visas are no longer required to travel outside the country.

But just because the exit visa law was changed does not mean the Cuban government has changed its views about dissidents.

In just about every country Sanchez visited, pro-Cuban forces showed up calling her a tool or mercenary of the United States. In Brazil, she was not able to view a film about her and other dissidents because of the demonstrations. At least Yoani saw the demonstrations for what they were: examples of people exercising their democratic rights to demonstrate for or against a particular point of view. Of course, the irony of the situation was lost on the pro-Cuba demonstrators. They would never have been able to mount similar demonstrations against a Cuban policy in Cuba. 

Cuban diplomats around the world were always suspected of being behind demonstrations. (The themes were universal around the world and the props were all the same. Too much uniformity for “spontaneous” demonstrations of “outrage” against Sanchez.) Finally, in New York, the Cuban government came out from behind the curtain.

The UNCA sponsored a press conference for Sanchez in the United Nations building, something that is pretty common.

Cuban Ambassador Rodolfo Reyes sent a letter to the U.N. Secretary General complaining the news conference would be “an anti-Cuban action” and a “grave attack” on the spirit of the United Nations. (He did not mention how dictatorships, such as Cuba’s, are also an attack on the spirit of the United Nations.) The ambassador continued that the U.N. should “not allow that the organization’s spaces to be tarnished and their use manipulated by spurious interests.”

Havana diplomats at UN try to block Cuban blogger’s news conference

Sanchez responded simply that it was time for the United Nations to “come out of its lethargy and recognize that the Cuban government is a dictatorship.”

“If this meeting was being held in the bottom of an elevator shaft, we would have more freedom than in Cuba,” she added. “I am proud that my first time in this very significant U.N. building is with my journalism colleagues.”

It is a pity that the Sanchez world tour — hell, even the U.S portion — is getting so little coverage by U.S. media. The exceptions are The Miami Herald (duh!) and Fox News Latino (double duh!). There are the occasional wire stories — as in McClatchy story linked above — but other than that, the presence of one of the most powerful and rational voices against the Cuban dictatorship is moving through Washington and New York with little attention by the mainstream press.

Why is her visit important?

To begin with Sanchez could only leave once Cuba repealed the exit visa requirement. That requirement alone should tell people more about what Cuba was and is than anything else. Only dictatorships require exit visas of its people. The fact that the Cuban government eliminated the exit requirement is a story about changes taking place in that country.

While the exit visa requirement removal is a big deal, the increased repression of freedom of expression activists in Cuba is also news. More people can leave (if they can get a passport, another problem), but only if they are not in jail or under indictment for “activities against the state.”

Freedom of expression is still stifled:

  • Committee to Protect Journalists: Though Cuba projected an image of a nation opening up economically and politically, it took no substantive steps to promote freedom of expression.
  • Freedom House: Cuba has the most restrictive laws on free speech and press freedom in the Americas. The constitution prohibits private ownership of media outlets and allows free speech and journalism only if they “conform to the aims of a socialist society.”
  • Human Rights Watch: Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent.
  • Amnesty International: The Cuban authorities continued to stifle freedom of expression, association and assembly, in spite of the much publicized releases of prominent dissidents. Hundreds of pro-democracy activists and dissidents suffered harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest.

What does this mean to the average person in the United States?

For too many people in the U.S. population (and in Congress) the only Latin American countries worth noting are Cuba and Mexico, and Mexico often comes in as a second thought.

Irrational and emotional arguments are a dime a dozen when dealing with Cuba. Finally, there is a rational voice from Cuba that is highly critical of the Cuban government allowed to travel and she gets little or no coverage — again, with the exception of the Miami Herald.

The Herald sees the immediate connection between the Sanchez tour and its audience. But where are the stories from the New Jersey/New York papers? The second largest Cuban population in the United States is in New Jersey.

Apologists for Cuba (and Venezuela and Ecuador) will not want to hear what Sanchez has to say, nor will they agree with it. Likewise, the rabid right-wing anti-Castro crowd will have difficulties with some of what Sanchez is saying — other than her unwavering belief in freedom of expression and democracy. Too many of the older anti-Castro group are hung up on returning property taken in the 1959 revolution. The issues are different now and many younger Cuban Americans know that. The anti-Castro lobby in Congress has not yet seemed to catch up.

It would be nice to see some stories of Cuban immigrants in the United States about how they got into the country, why the came and what they see as their future and the future of Cuba. I have talked with younger Cuban immigrants. They came to the States for the same reason most immigrants come: freedom and a better life. They are not from the elite families of the old dictatorship looking to return to power. They are immigrants, pure and simple.

Yes, they have opinions about the changes that should be made in Cuba — after all they still have family there. But if reporters took a few minutes to think about it, the stories of the 21st century immigrants will be different from those of the mid-20th century.

And once their stories are heard, then more people will stop thinking about Cuba and relations with Cuba with a Cold War mentality. They might even start looking at Cuba the same way the look at China, another brutal dictatorship that is famous for repression of freedom of speech and press, but with whom the U.S. is more than happy to deal with on the international scene.

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UPDATE: Yoani Sanchez heckled & praised in Brazilian congress

The latest in the Sanchez world trip has the blog writer and Cuban dissident showing that many in Brazil have not grown past the rhetoric of the Cold War.

[T]hose on the left hailing Cuba as a victim of U.S. aggression against communism while others praised Sanchez for fighting against political repression on the island.

“Mercenary, go to Disney,” shouted those opposed to her visit, repeating the Cuban government’s view that all dissidents on the island are on the payroll of its ideological archenemy, the United States.

At the same time others called out the Castro government as a dictatorship.

Cuban dissident blogger inflames splits in Brazil’s Congress

It is just as sad to see so many on the left in the Brazilian Congress fail to see reality and to get past the rhetoric of the Cold War as it is to see conservatives in the U.S. Congress also fail to get past the rhetoric of the Cold War.

Guess refusal to see facts is not limited to just one ideology.

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Yoani Sanchez’s world tour starts with protests in Brazil

Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez was blocked from seeing a film that featured her by protesters supporting the Cuban government. According the AP reports in Brazil say the Cuban embassy in Brasilia was instrumental in helping organize the demonstrations.

Oddly enough those complaining about Sanchez — for pointing out the lack of freedom in Cuba — have the right to demonstrate against here because Brazil is a democracy that tolerates dissent. Too bad that Pres. Dilma Rouseff did not speak out against this violation of Sanchez’s right to speak. (There are also reports that help for the demonstrators came from the president’s office.) Rousseff was also quite about the Cuban government suppression and arrests of dissident bloggers during her visit to Cuba last year.

Sanchez was recently allowed to leave Cuba after the Raul Castro government changed its travel rules allowing people to now get passports without having to first pass a loyalty test.

She will move on to about a dozen other countries to talk with free speech/press organizations and supporters. In the United States she will visit the offices of Google and Twitter.

Sanchez regularly blogs at Generation Y.

Here’s hoping she gets the kind of coverage a brave person like her deserves in the U.S. media — and I mean the real press, not the right-wing blogs.

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Cuban Internet link activated?

The BBC reports that maybe– just maybe — a high-speed Internet connection into Cuba has finally been activated. The report adds there appears to be no lag in transmission time due to censorship software, such as what happens in China.

But it is not all that great.

‘Curious’ Cuban net cable has activated, researchers say

Curiously, researchers noted traffic via the cable seemed only to be flowing into the country, not out of it.

“In the past week, our global monitoring system has picked up indications that this cable has finally been activated, although in a rather curious way,” wrote Doug Madory, Renesys’ senior researcher.

He explained that in the past week it had been noted that Telefonica, the Spanish telecoms company, had begun appearing in their data for Cuba.

When contacted by the BBC, Telefonica was not able to confirm that the activation had taken place.

But Renesys’ data is a strong indicator that the cable is beginning to show signs of life – be it over five years since its original inception.

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Human Rights stories deserving follow ups

Freedom House published its Best and Worst of Human Rights in 2012.

Many of these items got little press coverage — all to the bad in terms of understanding the rest of the world.  And many need regular updates. Here are my suggestions of follow ups:


LGBTI Victories in the Western Hemisphere

Some of the highlights as noted by Freedom House:

  • President Obama voiced public support for gay marriage for the first time
  • Three states—Washington, Maryland, and Maine—passed laws allowing same-sex marriage.
  • The first openly gay woman was elected to the U.S. Senate.
  • In Argentina the Senate passed legislation that allows gender to be legally changed without medical or judicial approval, and includes sex-change surgery and hormone treatment in government health insurance plans.
  • Chile passed an antidiscrimination law that penalizes all forms of discrimination. Although not specifically written to protect LGTBI rights, the measure was spurred by the brutal killing an openly gay man.
  • Even Cuba has jumped on the bandwagon, electing its first transgender person to municipal office.
  • Same-sex marriage is legal in Canada and some parts of Mexico.

And add that the LGBTI community in Honduras has been getting more vocal and demanding more protection from acts of violence. The community is getting support from a number of government with embassies in Honduras, but the leading force is the U.S. embassy.

Follow up is needed to ensure that newly enacted or proposed laws banning discrimination based on sexual identity or preference are followed. (The law is a fungible commodity in too many countries in the Western Hemisphere.)

The reason the protection of the LGBTI community is of importance to American readers is because how a country treats any minority group — such as this one — tells a lot about the morals and standards of that country and its people.  It also tells a lot about how well received tourists from different groups will be received in that country.

Passage of the Magnitsky Act

The U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in jail after exposing a multimillion-dollar fraud by Russian officials. The law places visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials involved in human rights abuses. President Obama signed the legislation on December 14 despite harsh objections from the Kremlin. This law could set a precedent for how the United States and other free societies address gross human rights violations around the world. The European Parliament has endorsed the adoption of similar legislation.

Reporting on how well this act — and others like it — are enforced is vital to keeping the issue of human rights (including press freedom) in the forefront. How well the law is enforced will also tell a lot about how the U.S. government bureaucracy deals with the thorny issue of human rights.

Survival of the Tunisian Revolution

The country has not yet suffered the fate of many of its neighbors in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring. Varying degrees of instability and repression persist in Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and particularly Syria, but Tunisia has made slow if uneven gains in its democratic transition. The constitutional drafting process is creeping forward without the bitter conflicts seen in Egypt. As the country approaches the two-year anniversary of the revolution, however, economic struggles have led to anti-government protests, one of which left nearly 200 people wounded, and support for the ruling coalition has definitively waned. The constitution is two months overdue, and there have been some concerning violations of press freedom. Despite these challenges, Tunisia continues to provide a positive example to the wider region.

The best way to send a message to the anti-democracy people in Tunisia is to make sure reporting continues. Journalists need to show where progress is being made and where it is being hindered — and by whom.

And this is important to the United States — beyond humanitarian and human rights reasons — because of Tunisia’s  location and the natural resources that are vital to us and our European partners.


Civil War in Syria

Anyone exposed to even the slightest bit of news knows that the civil war in Syria is the worst human rights and humanitarian catastrophe in the world today. The estimated death toll is at 42,000, with no end in sight. The  Committee to Protect Journalists report an alarming 32 reporters have been killed while covering the conflict.

Continued coverage is necessary to keep pressure on the rest of the world to do something to end the tragedy.

For U.S. readers, the issue is not just human rights but also the instability this war causes in an area vital to U.S. and global geo-political interests.

Devastation in Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the most resource-rich countries on the African continent. And yet it has been gutted by a combination of colonialism, corrupt and ineffective government, ethnic conflict, and a succession of armed militias and rebel groups that have raped and pillaged their way through the countryside, often using conscripted child soldiers. As many as five million people have died since the late 1990s. The international community has largely turned a blind eye to the country’s seemingly endless crisis, perhaps because there does not appear to be an easy solution.

Coup and Extremism in Mali

As in Congo, the horrific human rights situation in Mali was not caused by any single event. Rather it was a cascade of disasters that included a military coup, a reinvigorated Tuareg separatist movement, an influx of hard-line Islamist militants, and the combined effects of long-term drought, poverty, and corruption. There are widespread reports of rape and forced marriage, as well as the recruitment of child soldiers.

Paying attention to Congo and Mali may seem outside the usual assignment areas for U.S. media. Yet, the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. These are potential trading partners for America, if we can help the individual countries stabilize and develop viable middle classes.

The natural resources from Africa are badly needed by industrialized countries and industrializing countries. That means to keep out industries growing, the United States needs these items. It also means that other  countries less friendly to us — i.e. China — also need these raw materials.

In the end it comes down to a competition of ideals and principles. China is willing to dump billions of dollars into a country with no strings attached other than being given access to its raw materials. The United States, on the other hand demands transparency and civil rights from aid recipients. It is no wonder that the war lords and thugs prefer doing business with China. It is also no wonder that the people of these war-torn countries prefer U.S. aid

It is vital for U.S. citizens to know how and why the U.S. government spends money on development programs. It is also important to put that expenditure in perspective: Less than one-half of 1% of the federal budget is spent on ALL development programs — that includes the salaries of ALL USAID employees in the United States and around the world. Not the 25% most Americans think.

Russia’s Precipitous Decline

Since Vladimir Putin’s tightly controlled reelection as president in March, the political situation in Russia has become increasingly dismal, with some experts comparing it to the Soviet era. The government has enacted numerous pieces of legislation that have a harmful impact on human rights and the functioning of civil society. Most disturbingly, one new law requires civil society organizations that receive foreign funds to register as “foreign agents” or face possible criminal charges. In a related development, USAID was forced by the Russian government to withdraw from the country. The government re-criminalized libel, curbed internet freedom, outlawed “homosexual propaganda,” and imposed additional restrictions on public gatherings. Independent voices, some within the government, who have tried to speak out against this wave of legislation have been expelled, arrested, or otherwise muzzled.

Russia is a major power and sits on some of the greatest reserves of precious metals and rare earth in the world. It is a player that needs to be explained to the American people. It is not the Soviet Union and it is not THE major geo-political threat to the United States. But it is a great power that is not using that power to the betterment of its people.

There were expectations after the fall of communism that a strong Russian middle class would grow and the democratic instincts of the people would be fulfilled. After years of failed leadership, Putin has returned as a strongman to take away democratic hopes and aspirations. In the process he is also taking away the incentive for a viable middle class to grow and prosper.

Bottom line: Any country that has thousands of missiles aimed at us is one that news organizations should be looking at more closely.

Repression in Bahrain, Other Gulf States

After an independent report commissioned by Bahrain’s King Hamad uncovered widespread human rights abuses committed during the violent suppression of a protest movement in February 2011, the government promised to implement the recommended reforms. Not only has the regime failed to enact anything other than minor cosmetic changes, seemingly designed to mollify the international community, it has also continued on a path of repression. Impunity for the security forces and censorship persist. Journalists and human rights groups, including Freedom House, have been repeatedly denied entry to the country to report on these abuses. (Most recently Nicholas Kristof was seized and deported from Bahrain.) Sadly, Bahrain is not the only Gulf state in decline. A ban on “unlicensed” peaceful demonstrations was passed in Kuwait. And Oman has jailed dozens of people for making critical comments about the regime.

But why worry about repressive actions that only affect the people of those countries? Violent police action against demonstrators leads to more violence by demonstrators which leads to more repressive actions which leads to more violence and societal disruption and so on. The problem is that too few reports from the region make the connection between the violence in a country or region with Main Street USA.

Anything that takes place in the volatile Arab/Persian Gulf should be of interest to the America people. Besides the meme that we need the oil from the region — actually we don’t get that much, but our trading partners do — there is also the fertilizer that comes out of the area. Without Qatari, Kuwaiti, Saudi or Omani urea and ammonia, most of the American crops would fail. And THAT is something worth worrying about.

I would think the fertilizer angle is just one that could be put to better use by people trying to tell the story of repressive regimes in the Gulf region.

The Menace of Blasphemy Laws

The online dissemination of an offensive film that mocked Islam and sparked violent anti-American riots and protests in more than two dozen countries served as a reminder of the pernicious nature of laws that prohibit blasphemy in many parts of the world. These laws have a chilling effect on free expression and are often used to justify violence, repress religious minorities, and settle personal grudges rather than combat intolerance. A Freedom House special report shows there is no evidence that restricting speech reduces religious intolerance. In fact, the evidence shows that prohibitions on blasphemy actually lead to a wide range of human rights abuses. This does not prevent some Islamic leaders from using global bodies like the United Nations to push for international norms that prohibit blasphemy.

This is not the sharia law so feared by the U.S. Tea Party. This is worse because any government dominated by one religion can use laws against bad mouthing the dominate religion to shut down freedom of speech, press and assembly.

Singapore has several examples of how laws to prevent “callous and reckless remarks on racial or religious subjects” can be used to shut down any discussions the government wants shut down. The Vatican has gone to court to fight images that it considered “offensive.” One case involved a German satirical magazine that published a photo-shopped image of the pope’s vestments stained with urine.

So far the U.S. and its democratic allies have been able to hold off a full-court press by Islamic countries to have the United Nations endorse blasphemy laws. What is critical for the American people to know is that this is not just an Islamic/Third-World thing. There are too many religious fanatics around — including in the United States — that would be quite happy with blasphemy laws but only for the protection of their version of their religion.

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