Friday, December 15, 2017

Two nephews of Nicolas Maduro's wife caught and convicted of trying to smuggle 1,700 pounds of cocaine into the USA

Venezuela's first family implicated in cocaine trafficking

Efrain Antonio Campo Flores & Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas with police
Reuters reported "[t]wo nephews of Venezuela’s first lady were sentenced to 18 years in prison on [December 14, 2017] following their convictions in New York on U.S. drug trafficking charges." The New York State attorney reported on the conviction over twitter.

The two men were arrested in Haiti and yesterday found guilty of trying "to smuggle 1,700 pounds (800kg) of cocaine into the United States."

Providing context
There have been numerous news reports about the Venezuelan regime's links to international drug trafficking, and that U.S. investigations point to high ranking  officials in Venezuela turning the country "into a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering," but little is said about the Castro regime's decades long involvement in it that still continues.  Panamanian police seized more than 400 kilograms of cocaine in a Cuban ship on its way to Belgium in April of 2016

Venezuela: Global hub of drug trafficking Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post reported on the Venezuela, FARC, Cuba trafficking axis on May 24, 2015 in the article "A drug cartel’s power in Venezuela":
Ever since Colombian commandos captured the laptop of a leader of the FARC organization eight years ago, it’s been known that Chávez gave the Colombian narcoguerrillas sanctuary and allowed them to traffic cocaine from Venezuela to the United States with the help of the Venezuelan army. But not until a former Chávez bodyguard [ Leamsy Salazar] defected to the United States in January did the scale of what is called the “Cartel of the Suns ” start to become publicly known. [...] The day after Salazar’s arrival in Washington, Spain’s ABC newspaper published a detailed account of the emerging case against Cabello, and last month, ABC reporter Emili Blasco followed up with a book laying out the allegations of Salazar and other defectors, who say Cuba’s communist regime and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah have been cut in on the trafficking. That was followed by a lengthy report last week in the Wall Street Journal that said Cabello’s cartel had turned Venezuela into “a global hub for cocaine trafficking and money laundering.”

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Obama's Cuba policy legacy three years later: brain damaged diplomats, microwaves and the sounds of crickets

2014 Change in policy worsened relations with Cuba.

President Barack Obama with General Raul Castro in 2016
President Obama announced his new Cuba policy on December 17, 2014 to great fanfare but downplayed commuting the sentences of three Cuban spies, including Gerardo Hernandez who was serving a life sentence for his role in a murder conspiracy that claimed four innocent lives in 1996 and freed them the same day. 

The argument at the time was that this opening would lead to normalized and improved relations between Cuba and the United States.

On May 29, 2015, despite a long history of sponsoring terrorism, the Obama State Department removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. In November of 2017 former Cuban diplomat, Jose Antonio "Tony" Lopez was linked to terrorists responsible for the June 17, 2017 bombing in Bogota, Colombia that killed three and injured nine according to prosecutors in the South American country. A mother of one of the accused denied her son's involvement in the attack but confirms the link with the former Cuban diplomat.

Commerical center in Bogota, Colombia where bomb went off in June 2017
Human rights violations escalated over the remainder of the Obama Administration and trade between the two countries collapsed. Three years later the U.S. Embassy in Havana is mothballed and two dozen diplomats have been seriously injured. 

The Obama Administration's Cuba policy marked two years on December 17, 2016 and  American diplomats had already been suffering brain injuries. U.S. diplomats in Havana started being harmed in attacks in November of 2016. Despite that on December 7, 2016 the United States and Cuba held their fifth Bilateral Commission meeting where they celebrated progress on U.S.-Cuba relations, and signed 11 non-binding agreements on health, the environment, counter-narcotics, and other areas of cooperation.  

No word on these attacks. On January 2, 2017 Cuban troops in Havana marched in a parade over which Castro presided chanting that they would repeatedly shoot President Obama in the head so many times that they would make a “hat of lead to the head.” Despite that on January 12, 2017 the Obama Administration provided further concessions to Cuba gutting the Cuban Adjustment Act and ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program that had bothered General Castro for years.  

On January 16, 2017 the Obama State Department issued a statement that "the United States and Cuba [had] signed a bilateral Law Enforcement Memorandum of Understanding to deepen law enforcement cooperation and information sharing." American diplomats were suffering serious harm, including mild traumatic brain injury, permanent hearing loss that included loss of balance, headaches, and brain swelling. Yet, according to The Wall Street Journal no complaint was made until February of 2017 but the attacks on American diplomats continued until August 2017. Cuban officials at first said they did not know what was going on, and later claimed that the noises were crickets and the injuries imaginary.
Medical experts discovered changes in the brains of US and Canadian diplomats.
However the injuries are very real. "Medical experts discovered changes in the brains of US and Canadian diplomats, which fueled growing skepticism that some kind of sonic weapon was involved. Medical testing revealed the embassy workers developed changes to the white matter tracts." Professor James Lin, an expert in Electrical Engineering, at the University of Illinois at Chicago,  made the case that weaponized microwaves may be behind the attacks in Cuba.

This raises some difficult questions. Did the Obama Administration by downplaying the past crimes of the Castro regime lead the regime to calculate that it could get away with attacking or allowing diplomats to be attacked? Did downplaying the attacks on diplomats in Cuba in November and December of 2016 lead to others being harmed in 2017? 

Microwaves going through walls

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.