Wednesday, February 27, 2008
But, Luis Posada Carriles has his defenders (dare I say "apologists"). I myself have found that most of Posada's defenders provide elaborate exonerations for him, but which are filled with many distortions and omissions. And, then there's Rep. Dana Rohrabacher from California.
This past November, the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight reviewed the case of Luis Posada Carriles. I recently finished viewing the almost 4-hour video of the meeting and it was very informative, and I highly recommend its viewing for those interested in the case. [Video and full transcript (PDF) available in the archives section for November 15, 2007.]
The Subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts (long-time opponent of the US embargo towards Cuba), and includes ranking member Rep. Rohrabacher (long-time opponent of Communism). What a couple.
Rep. Rohrabacher is a complex man. He calls himself a defender of human rights, but supports the death penalty; a practice opposed by most human rights organizations. During the November meeting, Rep. Rohrabacher kept reiterating that "[a]nybody who is involved directly in killing innocent civilians in order to obtain a political end... that person is a murderer and should be executed." Rep. Rohrabacher also defends practices like extraordinary rendition, again in direct contradiction with human rights organizations who believe this practice is illegal.
Last April, Rep. Rohrabacher made some controversial comments in defense of extraordinary rendition during a subcommittee hearing (includes video):
"[W]e are at war, and we’ve got to make sure that we do not let go 50 terrorists who will go out and plant a bomb in London and kill 20,000 people in order to protect that one person who we arrested accidentally because his name was the same. That’s the type of unfortunate consequence.
"Well, I hope it’s your families, I hope it’s your families that suffer the consequences."
But, this would all make sense if you understand that Rep. Rohrabacher is at war. Last June, Rep. Rohrabacher made a speech at the Dedication of the Victims of Communism Memorial. In his speech, he made it clear that communism was an "evil ideology that was a monstrous threat to the people of this planet for seven decades." But, since we defeated that monstrous threat, it's "fitting" that Americans now have a special duty: "Americans represent every race, religion and ethic group found on this planet, so it comes to us to take the stand, to lead the way in those battles that determine the fate of mankind." According to Rep. Rohrabacher, "there is a new scourge threatening the free people of the world in the form of radical Islam."
Just like Cuban exiles militants (who are still at war with communism), Rep. Rohrabacher is prepared to overlook (or deny) the violent sins of some in order to keep all eyes on the enemy. In doing so, it is more likely to be accepted that innocent people, in the margins, be sacrificed ("unfortunate consequence") in the name of a greater cause. Those who accept this doctrine are, thus, more likely to view men like Luis Posada Carriles as heroes who made great sacrifices for this great cause. As Rep. Rohrabacher put it:
"We remember them and we are grateful to those who put themselves in harm’s way and often gave their lives to protect the free people of the world , to prevent us from becoming victims of communism."
Needless to say, Posada's attorney, Arturo Hernandez, had expressed similar views about the "monstrous threat" in front of the Subcommittee last November:
"In the final analysis, the historical record is clear, Cuba has stood for years as a poisonous dagger aimed at the side of the United States. Mr. Posada Carriles, as an ally of the United States, does not deny that he confronted Cuban-trained and rebel insurgencies in Venezuela and in other countries in defense of their democracies."
Posada's alleged sins are then forgotten.
The two articles in the Herald and Nuevo Herald are incomplete summaries of the November Subcommittee hearing. I encourage readers to read the full transcript or view the video. The testimony by Ann Louise Bardach and Peter Kornbluh are together a convincing reason to further investigate this case, and seek answers for the victims of terrorist actions.
[Addendum: El Nuevo Herald includes a response letter (in English) by Rep. Rohrabacher about the November Subcommittee hearing. In the letter, Rep. Rohrabacher ignores the ample evidence presented by Ann Louise Bardach (testimony) and Peter Kornbluh (testimony), and makes his final judgment based on one single piece of evidence. In an apparent case of denial Rep. Rohrabacher concludes: "With due admiration and respect for Chairman Delahunt, the hearing of own our subcommittee was not definitive enough to convince me that Luis Posada Carriles is a murderous terrorist instead of a Cuban exile trying to bring democracy to his country and prevent Communist dictatorships from taking hold in other Latin America countries."]
This prescient article, written a few days before Fidel Castro publicly resigned as Cuba's immovable President, I found to be quite unoriginal and incomplete. The author, Edward Schumacher-Matos (the Herald's Ombudsman), ignores the very questions he himself raises and provides no direction or guidance to readers (or editors) so they can decide for themselves how to answer those questions. Instead, the article becomes a soapbox for Schumacher-Matos' views in which he criticizes reporters for being "squeamish" when describing Fidel Castro as a "leader" or "president" instead of "dictator." And, finally ends all debate and discussion because "calling [Fidel] Castro a dictator is a fact, as much as it is that most contentious of things, a truth."
In my opinion, Edward Schumacher-Matos never wanted to have a serious discussion about how people describe their political leaders, or to enlighten anyone with a discussion on how the general population reflects on abuses of power by leaders of the world. By avoiding "that most contentious of things," Schumacher-Matos misses a very important point about the word "dictator," leaving readers very misinformed, and journalists in danger of risking their obligations to the public.
"Dictator" is an emotionally-loaded word. It has various uses throughout society describing all kinds of people who abuse their authority or position within a social hierarchy against the wishes of subordinates. Of course, the label is most used when its comes to heads of state: note the recent list of Parade Magazine's "World's Worst Dictators." Obviously, since these are political agents capable of exerting maximum power over a population, they become the targets of the most passioned denouncements, mainly by their victims. Therefore, using the word "dictator" is not merely an act of reporting "fact" as Schumacher-Matos conveniently describes it, it is also an act of outrage, which is not the role of a journalist.
One of the most important tenets of journalism is independence. If a journalist begins to express certain outrage (real or perceived) in favor of one side, then his or her public credibility can be harmed. By settling for neutral labels like "leader" or "president," the journalist prevents any perceived conflicts of interest, and can concentrate on the ultimate journalistic duty of "providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues." I believe the honest journalist will see that this position is justified, unless one is willing to sacrifice the public's right-to-know for one moment's personal outrage.
Yet, sometimes we cannot help it. Emotions have a way of influencing most of our behavior, and sometimes without our control. In addition, those expressions are mostly subjective and sometimes may not adhere to the general attitudes of the population. Therefore, it seems reasonable for the journalist to avoid using emotionally-loaded writing, and instead place priorities towards the science of testing accurate information, and the responsibility of providing relevant context.
But, we are still human, and the word "dictator" still belongs to our arsenal of personal judgments. When the recent "World's Worst Dictators" list came out, several readers' comments nominated President George W. Bush. Even the author of the list, David Wallechinsky, in 2006 stated that "Bush does use many of the same tactics that real dictators use, committing the same human rights abuses that the U.S. State Department condemns when they occur in other countries, declaring himself not bound by laws passed by Congress, and using the old, classic dictator line, 'Our nation is threatened by an evil outside force; only I can save the country and if you oppose me you are unpatriotic and support the enemy.'" (But personally, Wallechinsky does not believe Bush is a "dictator.")
So, what will they say when Fidel Castro dies? For whom shall he be "president," and for whom "dictator?" Let's find out.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Phil Peters at the Cuban Triangle Blog provides his thoughts on what he sees for the future of Cuba under Raul Castro. It's a cautious and positive outlook. But, over here at Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies the outlook is bleak, and worrisome (thanks to Senior Fellow Andy Gomez).
Anyway, Raul Castro does have several problems to tackle, and, in my opinion, the younger generation of Cubans will lead the way in holding Raul Castro accountable for their various grievances. Today, Anthony Boadle (Reuters) gives us a taste of what's to come:
"Young people are tired of poor salaries and food shortages, and feel constrained by a system that offers few opportunities to own nice homes, cars and other consumer goods. Some saw [Carlos] Lage as a leader who might help modernize Cuba."
Boadle quotes a 20-year old sociology student saying: "It should have been Carlos Lage. He has many good ideas. We should be rejuvenating."
Speaking of young Cubans, we all know of Yoani Sánchez and her blog: Generation Y (make sure you visit). There's a video interview with her here. She says she wants a freely elected leader to be President of Cuba, preferably not from the military "so we don't have to act like soldiers in front of him." She's just one example of a new generation in Cuba. She told Reuters:
"We're a mixture of pragmatism, disbelief and cynicism that is not a good combination to believe in any ideology."
[H/T to the Abajo Fidel Blog where I found the Yoani video. By the way, Abajo Fidel may be changing its name to Abajo Raul Castro. Tough choice I'm sure.]
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Cuba watchers, enjoy.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Last July, Sen. Obama made headlines when he responded to a YouTube question asking if he would meet "without precondition" and "during the first year" of his administration with leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, or Cuba. Sen. Obama said yes. His reason: "the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration -- is ridiculous." Sen. Obama then added that diplomatic talks with Syria and Iran concerning missions in Iraq would help in "stabilizing the region."
Yesterday, he reiterated similar remarks, but with more focus on US policy towards Cuba, and with important clarifications. "[A]s a show of good faith," Sen. Obama would loosen the Cuban family travel and remittance restrictions imposed by the current administration, and be open to meeting "without preconditions" with the leaders of the Cuban government. But, he added that an "agenda" of calls for human rights, release of political prisoners and press freedoms would be prepared if such meetings would occur. Sen. Clinton, neck-and-neck Democrat challenger, did not show support for these specific and brave steps.
[Transcript of yesterday's Cuba policy debate provided by Presidential Candidate Cuba Watch]
Last July, Sen. Clinton called Sen. Obama's comments "irresponsible and frankly naive." Yesterday, Sen. Obama received applause for his position.
But, what I found most impressive was Sen. Obama's comments near the end of this policy debate. Last July, I wrote about how Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, noticed that Sen. Obama showed "humility" in his support for diplomacy with other nations. Yesterday, Sen. Obama further articulated this feeling:
"... the problem is, if we think that meeting with the President [of the United States] is a privilege that has to be earned [by other nations], I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time. And I think that it’s important for us in undoing the damage that has been done over the last seven years, for the president to be willing to take that extra step."
He's right on the money. Again, Sen. Obama reiterates the important psychological value of sensing how others nations may perceive our actions [as a Superpower], and understanding the asymmetrical relationship that exists between certain countries, such as between Cuba and the US. Simply put, it means placing yourself in the other's shoes.
Application of this form of empathy to the US/Cuba relationship has been covered by respected historians James G. Blight and Philip Brenner in their important book titled "Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba's Struggle with the Superpowers After the Missile Crisis." In the book, Blight and Brenner explain what they call "realistic empathy":
"[W]e propose that a perspective rooted in realistic empathy provides a way to appreciate the nature of the U.S.-Cuban relationship without ideological blinders. As applied to this case, an empathetic approach would begin with the assumption that neither the United States nor Cuba holds the balance of virtue, and that the aims of both countries deserve to be accorded respect. It requires careful listening to both sides, devoid of the temptation to rush to judgment. It then suggests an approach to reduce the hostility between them, and enable those who could find common ground to do so."
I think Sen. Barack Obama has shown that he understands this important value, and can lead the United States away from past deleterious policies of isolation and hostility.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
On C-SPAN yesterday morning (Washington Journal) Phil Peters appeared with Reuters correspondent Anthony Boadle, and later with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Rep. Bill Delahunt. Both Boadle and Peters provide their thoughts on the current situation in Cuba, and Peters answers plenty of questions from callers. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen calls in to the show (acting over-friendly as usual and awkwardly greeting Peters as "friend") and voices her support for current US policy, even supporting part of her argument by citing reports from Freedom House which receives regular funding from the US government (USAID). Of course, she dares not mention the recent statements by the two leading human rights organizations that oppose the US embargo.
DIANE REHM SHOW
Then there was NPR's Diane Rehm show, which provided an excellent 50 minutes of commentary from Phil Peters, David Adams from the St. Petersburg Times, Frank Calzon from the Center for a Free Cuba (where one need only look at their "Research Council" to know where they stand), and later with US Sec. of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez. Highlights are Frank Calzon calling himself a defender of human rights while never mentioning the fact that the leading human rights organizations have and continue to oppose US policy towards Cuba (without question his perspective on human rights is quite selective), and Phil Peters being left "speechless" and describing Sec. Gutierrez as "disconnected from basic facts" about Cuba (some one had to say it). Of course, Calzon responds to that comment and also finds himself "speechless" about Peter's comment.
Kudos to Phil for taking a stand for accuracy.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
But, despite those very intriguing questions about names we assign to people in power, or names for those who operate within systems of concentrated power at different degrees, Schumacher-Matos is not interested in a long discussion or debate about the topic. His mind is pretty much made up: "A dictator is a dictator for good or ill." And, he thinks Herald reporters are being too "squeamish" when they use other descriptors for Fidel Castro, such as "leader" or "president." He explains:
"Journalists, however, are [squeamish], and usually for good reasons. They avoid tendentious characterizations. A formal title is objective and safe. But calling Castro a dictator is a fact, as much as it is that most contentious of things, a truth. Indeed, he is the world's longest-ruling dictator."
Certainly, Fidel Castro for many decades has been the designated and unyielding leader of Cuba's military oligarchy, a system of power that has extended its control over virtually all of Cuban society. But, would it have made a difference if I had said "dictator" in the last sentence? Not really. Heads of government from across the globe inhabit a space that wields great power and influence. To say whether they commit genocide or bring peace to a region requires that we understand how systems of power operate, not whether we can differentiate between "leader" or "dictator." But, Schumacher-Matos gives a reason why Fidel Castro is a "dictator."
"But whatever [Fidel Castro's] intentions, and some good accomplishments, they do not justify the murder and jailing of political opponents, the massive security state and a brainwashing propaganda machine."
I agree, but Schumacher-Matos does not say who is justifying such acts. And, thus, one is left to assume that perhaps, according to Schumacher-Matos' article, anyone who refuses (or is squeamish) to call Fidel Castro a "dictator" is justifying such acts. Certainly, Schumacher-Matos does not mean this, but his insistence that "a dictator is a dictator" leaves readers with little room to wonder.
Of course, when it comes to Fidel Castro, the label "dictator" seems appropriate. But, one should wonder if the descriptor should be exclusively tied to abuses of power, especially those that create suffering and death. Are "leaders" or "presidents" incapable of committing great abuses of power that lead to suffering and death? Certainly not. (For example, President Musharraf of Pakistan.) Are "leaders" or "presidents" incapable of stretching the reach of their designated powers, or justifying such abuse for the good of a nation? Certainly not.
I think it would have been better stated if Schumacher-Matos had said: "A head of government who abuses his/her powers is a head of government who abuses his/her powers for good or ill."
This better explains how the exercise of power operates. But, of course, the debate now extends to what we define as abuses of power, and providing examples. One good measure examines the degree to which people become affected by the actions of those in power. And, also by how citizens who benefited from or were victimized by such power can look back and justify that system of power.
I think such inquiries will be beneficial as we draw closer to the end of Fidel Castro's life. We can examine and compare similar examples of dictatorial regimes with Fidel's. And, fortunately, we have one example that would be enlightening to compare with: The recent death of "President" Haji Muhammad Suharto.
"Despite Fidel Castro’s resignation today, Cuba’s abusive legal and institutional mechanisms continue to deprive Cubans of their basic rights, Human Rights Watch said today. The counterproductive US embargo policy continues to give the Cuban government a pretext for human rights violations."
"However, the Cuban government still needs to take concrete steps to decriminalize political dissent, Human Rights Watch said. Specifically, it should unconditionally release all political dissidents. It should also repeal the provisions of the penal code that provide the basis for gross violations of human rights."
"For more than four decades, the US government has used Cuba’s dismal rights record to justify a sweeping economic embargo aimed at toppling the Castro regime. Yet the policy did nothing to bring change to Cuba. On the contrary, it helped consolidate Castro’s hold on power by providing his government with an excuse for its problems and a justification for its abuses. Moreover, because the policy was imposed in such a heavy-handed fashion, it enabled Castro to garner sympathy abroad, neutralizing international pressure rather than increasing it."
From Amnesty International:
"A spokesperson for the organization said that Fidel Castro’s decision not to continue as president of Cuba paves the way for positive human rights reforms on the island."
"[According to Amnesty International Special Advisor, Javier Zuñiga,] 'Reform in Cuba must start with the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, the judicial review of all sentences passed after unfair trials, the abolition of the death penalty and the introduction of measures to ensure respect of fundamental freedoms and the independence of the judiciary.'"
"Amnesty International has also urged the international community, and in particular the US, to abolish policies and practices, such as the US embargo, which impinge on the human rights of Cubans."
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
There are some Cuban exiles that see Fidel Castro's renouncement of power as a positive step for economic or political change. Some are focused on how best to bring war crime charges on the former totalitarian leader.
Noticias23 (Univision) had video of Cubans on the island reacting to the recent news. All of them understood that Fidel Castro is too old to be in power and that he needed to retire. Most explained that Fidel struggled and gave everything that he could for Cuba. One Cuban woman almost came to tears.
Video of Cuban dissidents was also made available by Noticias23. Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo was hopeful and said that economic changes are inevitable (whether the political elites want it or not), and that positive developments await Cuba once everyone realizes that Democracy depends on pluralism. Oswaldo Paya is also seen hopeful, but more cautious. He says that he does not look towards the "palace," but rather to the people who want their freedom, and want peace.
[The Cuban Triangle has more, the Cuba Journal gives thanks and says farewell to Fidel, and the Babalu Blog is, well, intransigent.]
[Excerpts from Fidel Castro's farewell letter from the BBC.]
[Update: Great interviews with Cuba experts Julia Sweig (from the Council on Foreign Relations, and Peter Kornbluh (from the National Security Archive).]
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Here to help us re-examine our responsibilities as actors inside the Internet is Daniel J. Solove, associate professor of law and recent author of The Future of Reputation and The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age.
The blogosphere gives us bloggers a great amount of freedom and thus great amounts of responsibility, where the consequences of our actions be very positive or very damaging. Solove reviews cases that bring much needed understanding and perspective into our roles within the Internet. Solove advises:
"The Internet's freedom could actually conflict with itself. On the one hand you have free speech... On the other hand privacy could be implicated. Peoples' reputation can be harmed, and that could limit peoples' freedom. That can limit peoples' autonomy. It can make people less free and shackle them to their past."
A moral dilemma arises over freedom and privacy, and it's important that users of the Internet become aware and informed about these ethical concerns.
Daniel J. Solove was recently interviewed by C-Span, and I highly recommend its viewing.
Many of the documented victims have been verified through the Cuba Archive, "an initiative of the Free Society Project, Inc., a non-profit, tax-exempt organization incorporated in 2001 in Washington, D.C., to promote the understanding, recognition, and observance of human rights."
Funny that their Board of Advisors don't necessarily reflect "understanding" and "human rights." Enrique Encinosa and Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez are moral supporters of Luis Posada Carriles and Encinosa has been on record to justify forms of terrorism. And, Carlos Alberto Montaner and Dennis Hays are adamant supporters of the US embargo towards Cuba, a policy virtually condemned by the rest of the world.
Anyway, memorials are very important parts of all societies. They help us remember history, atrocities and important lessons. But, memorials may also serve different purposes for some people. It all depends on the lessons we draw from particular events of the past, and how we look towards the future.
"There's an old Russion proverb: 'Dwell on the past and you will lose an eye. Forget the past and you will lose both eyes.' Dwelling on the past, for victims of hatred and abuse, can lead to depression, disassociation, hopelessness; or the tendency to blame entire groups and the fantasy, or reality, of revenge."*
*[Minow, Martha. (2002). Breaking the cycles of hatred. In Nancy Rosenblum (ed.), Breaking the cycles of hatred: memory, law, and repair. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.]
Friday, February 15, 2008
ON THE FRONTLINE
Carlos Miller, photo and video journalists, finally uploaded footage from last Saturday's Code Pink demonstration at the Versailles Restaurant. According to Miller, he was assaulted by a Versailles Restaurant "bodyguard" after he stepped over into the pro-Luis Posada Carriles side of Calle Ocho, where militant Cuban exiles have little tolerance for dissenting views, and was being forced to leave by a shouting crowd. Miami police intervened in the altercation and asked if Miller wished to press charges on the "bodyguard" who assaulted him. Miller declined to press charges citing that he nor his equipment were harmed in the quarrel.
Nevertheless, in his blog, Miller describes his anger over the treatment he received by some at the protest in front of the Versailles Restaurant. He also adds some expletives aimed at Aldo Rosado-Tuero, director of the Nuevo Accion blog, who is accused by Miller for lying about the incident on Saturday. Nuevo Accion is a Spanish-language blog not too different from the Babalu Blog, but far more motivated by tabloid tendencies, intimidation tactics, public defamation and manipulation. (Or is that the same as Babalu Blog?)
[Check out the other videos by Carlos Miller and Magic City Media]
In another attempt to obviate from the important issues, Henry Gomez from the Babalu Blog has led a misinformation campaign against Presidential candidate Barack Obama and his supporters by focusing on the controversial figure of Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
For decades, the Guevara image (and rhetoric) has been generally understood as a force of benevolent revolution, but recent publications, some of which have gained national attention, have strengthened the debate over the "Che" image, and the real man. But, this new debate has yet to take hold over every person in America, and it is unreasonable (and unrealistic) for Henry Gomez to think that this issue of "Guevaragate" should be forced among the most pressing national issues.
But, important national issues don't seem to matter to Mr. Gomez. He's more concerned about creating conflict among Americans who are still ignorant of the new debate over Guevara. At the very least, Mr. Gomez has the opportunity to expand an important and serious debate over the controversial life of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. (Notice that debate is virtually banned from the Babalu Blog.) Instead, Mr. Gomez's plan is to now stereotype American citizens supporting Barack Obama as being "Che admirers."
According to Mr. Gomez, "the percentage of people who support [Barack Obama] who have subscribed to those Che myths is substantial" and "there are a significant number of Che admirers supporting [Barack Obama]."
What's the proof, you say? According to Mr. Gomez: "14 user generated web pages at BarackObama.com [feature] quotes or pictures from Che Guevara." Case closed.
Here's what Mr. Gomez leaves out: 1) most of those 14 profiles have legitimate concerns about top national issues such as healthcare, the Iraq War and energy independence; and 2) there are over 100,000 profiles at BarackObama.com.
But, those facts do not matter to Mr. Gomez. He's more concerned about something else: the ideological battle against the Cuban government.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Noting that Radio Mambi has now lost a preferred Presidential candidate like Mitt Romney, Armengol believes that the "the 'Mambises' [militant exiles] from Calle Ocho" have to face a certain reality this year and advises them to "step out onto the sidewalk and look at the world... because it's changing."
Armengol also noticed how Radio Mambi last week totally disregarded the recent news of Joe Garcia's candidacy to run against Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. I noticed this too last week, and today Radio Mambi did not report on the candidacy of Annette Taddeo against Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. It is likely that Radio Mambi will make all efforts to avoid reporting on the three new Democrat challengers in South Florida this year.
But, Armegol replies:
"The time has come to hear new voices and to elect to Washington politicians who represent an alternative against lies, complacency and the accomplishments of the war politician disguised as public service."
"For many years, radio stations that hijacked the duty of representing the Cuban community carried out a hypertrophic [abnormally overgrown] task, in the manner of emotional complacency for an exiled audience in a country with a different language and culture. They stood out more for their supposed militant character of political struggle, than their progress and informative capacities."
According to Armengol, stations like Radio Mambi have resisted the socio-political changes that surrounds them due to the policies of the Bush administration. As a result, those stations have anchored themselves to "their traditional image of nostalgia, false hopes, and radio combativeness." And, also their favored Cuban-American politicians.
Armengol has no problem with Radio Mambi providing an exclusive soapbox for Ileana, Lincoln and Mario, but they should pay for the airtime, just like everyone else. Otherwise, it is immoral.
The Cuba Journal Blog yesterday links to reported rumors being spread that Radio Mambi's programming director, Armando Perez Roura, has been adamantly opposed to airing any mention of the new South Florida Democrat candidates. According to El Duende (Max Lesnick) on Radio Miami, Radio Mambi's programming director "has given instructions" to deny airtime to the new Democrat challengers in South Florida. Lesnick bases this rumor on "a report that arrived at the Univision headquarters."
Ever since I have been carefully listening to Radio Mambi, NEVER have I heard an interview, report or serious discussion with or about a Democrat, or the Democrat party. Radio Mambi exclusively caters to and gives generous airtime to Republicans and Republican issues. Given that this year marks the first time South Florida Congressional Republicans are being seriously challenged, it is going to be very interesting to hear how Radio Mambi confronts the important issue of the public airwaves for the public interest.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
What do they say about things that come in threes? I'm sure Ileana, Lincoln and Mario are gonna want to know.
Bookmark the official websites of the three Democrat candidates this year, and spread the word.
- Raul Martinez
- Joe Garcia
- Annette Taddeo
Saturday, February 9, 2008
It is among the most important duties for the police to keep the streets clear of people gathered for public assemblies, and last month's failed Code Pink demonstration showed how necessary barricades are to keep the peace.
Most local news coverage was very brief, Telemundo51 was the only station to provide brief interviews with opposing sides, but most reports were just short summaries of today's event.
Thanks to the power of blogging we have some details emerging so far of today's event. Last month, there was a blogger who provided his first-hand account of the counter-protest from Versailles Restaurant. Magdaleno Rose-Avila reported on his experience from "the middle of an active hornets nest" which he also described was "not a safe place for a liberal." It's a very interesting report.
Today, Carlos Miller, blogger and video/photo journalist, provides his thoughts on today's demonstration and describes an altercation he had with some individuals in front of the Versailles Restaurant. The description of the quarrel sounds familiar to incidents reported in the past when hard-line Cuban exiles gather in large numbers, but Carlos Miller reminds everyone of an important point :
"I know many of you will have a field day with this. I know many of you will say this just proves that I am a troublemaker with a camera. And others will say that this just proves that the entire Cuban exile community has no regards for the First Amendment. So I do want to stress that most of the Cuban exiles were extremely respectful of what I was doing."
Those who gathered today in Little Havana , from which ever side of the street they were on, do not represent by their actions any larger population to which they affiliate themselves with. The Code Pink demonstration today does not represent the actions of a larger national progressive movement, just as the hostile actions of Vigilia Mambisa do not represent the larger Cuban exile democracy movement.
Friday, February 8, 2008
Today I read about the work of one of the scheduled panelist which I thought was very enlightening. She is Maria Stephans of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict. Stephans is an expert on non-violent democratic movements around the world and will be making some comparisons with the current Cuban opposition for the FIU conference. Stephans recently helped complete a thorough analysis of violent and non-violent civil resistance movements around the world, and assessed their effectiveness. Her results showed that non-violent movements have a far better (almost 90%) success rate than violent ones (50%).
According to Stephans, the assumption of fighting tyrannical repression with equal force of violence may be misunderstood:
"Certainly there is an intellectual history which supports this model. There is a whole tradition of violent revolutionaries, for example, who have popularized the notion that violence is the most effective force in liberating a people from repression, and the most effective way to fight back. When you think about revolutionary fighters or freedom fighters, after all, the image that comes to mind for most people is a Mao Zedong or Che Guevara figure carrying an AK-47.
"Yet, the rhetoric of violence is often more powerful than the reality of violence's strategic effectiveness. Ideology and perception of effectiveness thus have a lot to do with it. Also, there is a steady stream of media coverage of violent forms of resistance. 'If it bleeds, it leads' is the mantra that leaves us with the false impression that that which captures headlines, necessarily captures power. Our study is challenging this notion by looking at results."
Stephans also has some words for those (like the US government) who seek to support non-violent democratic movements (such as in Cuba):
"However, and this is crucial - to be effective, nonviolent movements must be indigenously planned and executed. External assistance cannot create civic coalitions nor disciplined nonviolent action. To assume otherwise (as some analysts do) is to fundamentally misunderstand the dynamics underlying this form of resistance."
[Photo above of massive non-violent protest in Beirut 2005]
According to the Radio Martí report (in Spanish), "despite there being divergent opinions" among the twenty panelists involved (who come from various backgrounds), "the majority agreed that the final goal should be that democracy in Cuba be decided by Cubans on the island."
The day-long conference was made up of four panels, each discussing different topics about Cuba at different scheduled times throughout the day. The panelists ranged from Jaime Suchlicki, director of UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS, which receives some funding from the US government), to John McAuliff, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development.
Radio Martí does mention one point where "some experts" did have "divergent opinions," such as whether the democratic transition in Cuba will be a long process or a short one.
Radio Martí quotes Phil Peters saying that while public debates are taking place on the island, it is still not known if this will lead to significant democratic changes. Peters also tells Radio Martí that the opposition in Cuba have strong ideas in favor of democracy, but that we must also consider if Raul of Fidel remain in charge before making a judgment. As a result, Peters sees no political changes "on the horizon" in Cuba.
Radio Martí then quotes Andy Gomez, another researcher from UM's ICCAS who participated in the Brookings conference, saying: "Myself, as a Cuban, born in Cuba, the first thing I want is democracy tomorrow." Gomez believes that "we" (the US) need to continue our support of Cuban civil society and help "sustain it and maintain it."
Gomez has gone on record to say that the US "should've probably lifted the embargo when the Soviet Union fell apart, and let everything go in, particularly people with new ideas, and give people the opportunity, those in Cuba, to hear how the rest of the world was going on." But, Gomez now supports the US embargo as potential political leverage in demanding "at least three conditions" from the Cuban government: "Respect for human rights, the release of all political prisoners, and give the Cuban people, within the first 18 months to two years, the opportunity to choose who they want as their next leader." Gomez has also stated that once Raul Castro is seen as the definitive new leader of Cuba "[he's] got six months to a year to bring about some positive change. I'm not talking political reform. [Rather] Minimal economic reforms. If he doesn't, then I dare to say, that you can have a large migration out of Cuba."
Among the other panelists were political analysts who oppose the US embargo like Vicki Huddleston, Julia Sweig, Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Riordan Roett and others.
[Photo above of Havana]
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Garcia is quoted in today's Miami Herald saying: "This is a unique time in American history and just sitting on the sidelines and cheering isn't enough." In response, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart states: "I will base my campaign on my extensive record of cutting taxes on our families and small businesses while delivering hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for our community's needs, including transportation, healthcare and education." Concerning Cuba, Garcia is opposed to the Cuban family travel (and remittance) restrictions imposed in 2004, which is supported by both Diaz-Balart Brothers. But this is the only point of disagreement. Concerning the general US embargo towards Cuba, all candidates support the current unilateral economic sanctions on the island.
According to Lesley Clark from the Miami Herald, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has "more than $465,000 in his campaign account." It is not yet known exactly how much Joe Garcia or Raul Martinez have behind their campaigns so far. Clark also reports that political analyst see that Garcia "may have a tougher time gaining traction because he lacks name recognition" in the district in which he is running for office. While the district (Florida's 25th Congressional) still leans Republican, a decreasing number of registered Republicans and an increasing number of Independents, including anticipated high voter turnout, may prove to make this another exciting South Florida campaign along with Raul vs Lincoln.
Tonight local Spanish station Noticiero23 (Univision) had an interview with Annette Taddeo, potential challenger to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She did not say whether she would run or not, but stated that "change" is needed in Ileana's 18th Congressional district. Taddeo, like now-official Democrat candidates Martinez and Garcia, has been seen around Capitol Hill looking for support to run against Rep. Ros-Lehtinen. No comments have been made by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen's office so far about the potential challenge in November.
And, on Telemundo51 an online poll asked viewers who they would vote for between Joe Garcia and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. 63% voted for Mario, and 37% for Joe, from a total of 2509 votes.
[Correction: I misquoted Joe Garcia earlier from the Lesley Clark article in today's Herald. Corrections have been made, and my apologies to readers.]
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
According to the article, Code Pink is meeting today with officers at the City of Miami Police Department and obtaining their permit to demonstrate again in front of the Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, this Saturday at 11 AM. It is also reported that counter-demonstrators have also obtained their permits to be at the same location and time, estimating to number around 500-800 persons. In the last event, only about 200-300 counter-protesters were reported to have attended, but permits require an estimate of the anticipated crowd. The counter-demonstrators are the same groups that comprise the "Committee in Support of Luis Posada Carriles" (such as Alpha 66 and Vigilia Mambisa).
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, is quoted in El Nuevo Herald saying:
"We hope that on this occasion it be a peaceful protest and that the Miami Police protect our constitutional right to demonstrate in this community."
Wilfredo Cancio Isla (unfortunately) quotes Miguel Saavedra, member of Vigilia Mambisa (who was caught last year attacking a counter-protester in Little Havana on film and video), saying things that really shouldn't be taken seriously. Last month, Saavedra told a Spanish reporter that those who chased away Code Pink last time are in fact "very democratic, this is a free country. We are on our side of the street. No one has prohibited anything. We're pluralists."
Saavedra is now quoted saying that his organization really has a "peaceful character" and that last month's hostile actions against Code Pink were nothing but a "popular rejection towards a group of provocateurs."
How unfortunate that Saavedra doesn't really understand the meaning of pluralism, nor democracy, but instead has no problems with actions such as "popular rejection" (which last month meant "mob violence and intimidation") towards unfavored political groups. It's also unfortunate how journalists repeatedly quote this man.
I have no idea what will happen on Saturday, but I do have hope that many counter-demonstrators will not charge towards or throw any objects at Code Pink members. I also hope that counter-demonstrators will take the opportunity before and after to reject and oppose such hostile actions at members of Code Pink.
[Last Month's Demonstration]
Saturday, February 2, 2008
As I read more about international sanctions, I also tried to consider its psychological interpretation in the form of "indirect aggression" (such as harms inflicted circuitously), and then later its moral applications. The idea of sanctions as indirect aggression is not far-fetched, especially when one considers the historical uses of blockades and siege warfare, and realizes that they share the same goals. By the end of the first World War, nations eventually noticed how they had to change their military strategies to avoid massive slaughter. As a result, then-US President Woodrow Wilson saw sanctions as a way to avoid such direct conflict:
"Apply this economic, peaceful, silent deadly remedy and there will be no need for force. The boycott is what is substituted for war."
But, I never understood how something described as "deadly," or a substitute for war, would bring about peace, or positive change. Furthermore, provided that the research by IIE found that international sanctions have no more than an estimated 33% chance of success (with unilateral sanctions having less success), one also begins to question the use of such policy. The embargo on Cuba raises such simple questions, and considering its long and recent history one can see how the embargo is viewed as a form of aggression against Cuba from the US. Thus, the burden of its justification lies heavily on those who continue to support this form of indirect aggression, and only reasonable and honest to be critical of its supporters.
Constant changes in our global society compels us to review our past actions and beliefs, and again make new judgments on issues and moral dilemmas. In the case of US sanctions, IIE explains the need for such a reassessment [PDF]:
"Since the 1960's, however, trade and financial patterns have become far more diversified, new technology has spread more quickly, and the US foreign aid budget has virtually dried up with the exception of selected countries and objectives, the war of terror, and combating AIDS. Recovery in Europe and the emergence of Japan have created new, competitive economic superpowers, and economic progress worldwide has reduced the pool of truly vulnerable target countries. The most obvious and important explanation for the decline in effectiveness of US sanctions is the relative decline of the US position in the world economy."
From this critical view, one need only go one step further and consider the moral or ethical implications of a specific policy, namely economic sanctions.
Joy Gordon from the Carnegie Council, a research institute whose mission is to "encourage and give a voice to a variety of ethical approaches to the most challenging moral issues in world politics," in 1999 provided some strong arguments on the ethics and morals of economic sanctions, a subject she has written about extensively.
"Many of those who defend sanctions do not argue that damage to innocents is morally acceptable, but rather that this damage is not inherent in sanctions and could in principle be mitigated or avoided altogether. Where measures are taken to minimize civilian harm, the argument goes, sanctions are ethically defensible. But this optimism is inconsistent with the nature of economic sanctions, as well as with the history of sanctions and the logic of the vested interests created by sanctions. If economic sanctions are motivated by an intent to do economic damage [such as the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and Helms-Burton of 1996], then partial sanctions and humanitarian exemptions [such as the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000] will allow the target nation [e.g. Cuba] to adjust its economy to minimize the overall damage, undermining the intentions of the political actors imposing the sanctions."
"The more complete the sanctions, the more effective they will be, in terms of economic damage; but that in turn means that the economy as a whole will be undermined. The greater the degree to which the economy is generally undermined, the greater the damage to the civilian population, outside the military and political leadership... Sanctions that are economically effective necessarily entail the greatest harm to those who are the most vulnerable and the most disenfranchised from power."
"To say that sanctions are ethical as long as we make sure to minimize civilian harm is to mask the fact that sanctions by their nature cause harm to civilians directly and primarily."
Gordon, in another article, also addresses the morals of sanctions through Just War theory:
"I do not deny that the contexts in which sanctions and sieges occur may be different, the intent of each may differ, the nature of the demands may be different, and the options of the besieged or sanctioned states may be different. But the moral objection to sanctions does not rest on the analogy; sanctions do not have to be identical to siege warfare in order to be subject to condemnation under just war principles. Indeed, if the intent of sanctions is peaceful rather than belligerent, then the usual justifications in warfare are unavailable. I am morally permitted to kill where my survival is at stake; and in war, I am morally permitted to kill even innocents, in some circumstances. But if one's goal is to see that international law is enforced or that human rights are respected, then the stakes and the justificatory context are quite different. It is hard to make sense of the claim that 'collateral damage' can be justified in the name of protecting human rights; or that international law might be enforced by means that stand in violation of international laws, including the just war principle of discrimination."
These serious criticisms of economic sanctions have made their impact. Currently, sanctioning institutions, like the UN, prefer "targeted sanctions" or "smart sanctions" that have more focus on travel and financial restrictions against targeted political leaders. Yet, this change in practice should not discourage any more serious criticism.
Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute (and blogger for the Cuban Triangle) recently addressed some of the ethical concerns over the US embargo, namely the recent restrictions on family travel to Cuba outlined in the 2004 report by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba. Peters, like Gordon, examines these sanctions through Just War principles:
"By their very nature, the new family sanctions do not discriminate. In fact they target the welfare of ordinary citizens, regardless of the fact that the focus of policymakers is the secondary economic impact on the Cuban government when fewer visits take place, and fewer gift parcels and cash remittances arrive."
"The Bush Administration's Cuba family sanctions have precisely the impact that Just War theory teaches states and statesmen to avoid: They harm innocents while leaving the king unscathed. The restrictions on visits and material assistance hurt the Cuban families who are their direct target -- but they are of little to no consequence to the Cuban government except as fodder for propaganda."
While Peters' astute examination focuses on the ethics of the Cuban family travel restrictions, he refrains from making similar judgments on the entire US embargo towards Cuba: "I do not believe that countries have a God-given right to trade with one another or that our unilateral trade embargo is in itself unethical... There are moral virtues to be found in [free trade], but I view the overall free trade issue through a practical, not a moral prism."
But, some scientific evidence has recently convinced me that perhaps there is a need to view global trade through a moral prism. Just last month, Michael Shermer, monthly columnist for Scientific American, made a compelling argument about why the US should trade with Cuba, based on recent scientific studies.
Shermer, a libertarian, who recently argued that "[m]arkets are moral" because they are based on an innate human "moral emotion of 'reciprocal altruism'," has taken one step forward in examining international economic sanctions by considering economic evolution, or Evonomics. According to Shermer, our relative wealth and diversity in retail products is due to market capitalism that evolved as a "complex adaptive system." Just like in biological evolution, "[i]n economic evolution, our material economy proceeds through the production and selection of numerous permutations of countless products." Shermer highlights this phenomenon through the obvious wealth differences between an indigenous hunter-gatherer tribe from South America (the Yanomamö people) and residents of Manhattan. But, there is also cultural evolution involved here. Shermer notes that "[i]n addition to being fierce warriors, the Yanomamö are also sophisticated traders, and the more they trade the less they fight." In the end, trade becomes an important social adhesive that deters conflict and eventually leads to wealth and prosperity.
Following this logic, Shermer deduces that trade (when viewed through Evonomics) evolved as a way to create stability and security within competing tribes (or between any identified social groups), and that "cooperation that goes into making trade successful accentuates amity and attenuates enmity." Shermer cites some very interesting scientific studies that show how trade can be viewed as a form of exchange that increases trust and cooperation between partners. According to the studies, the human brain reacts positively to these exchange exercises and becomes active in producing several gratifying feelings, one being cooperation and trust due to the neuro-chemical oxytocin.
Shermer concludes that "free trade makes people more trusting and trustworthy, which makes them more inclined to trade, which increases trust … creating a self-enforcing cycle of trust, trade, freedom, and prosperity."
While I personally do not support all libertarian doctrines, I do support means that encourage cooperation and peace. And it should be obvious too that most Libertarians in the US oppose the US embargo towards Cuba, since most oppose the use of economic sanctions (or any barriers to free trade) altogether. This fact also reveals a glaring contradiction in those who continue to defend the US embargo, but somehow also defend free market principles.
Anyway, if we accept Shermer's argument that trade will increase feelings of trust and cooperation, and hopefully friendly relations between nations, then one might feel morally compelled to advance such an argument, especially if one considers that the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights tells us that "it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations." When viewed as an American, one should also consider that the United States wields great power and influence, and thus has an even greater responsibility than other smaller nations to adhere to the moral norms of international law and human rights. Thus, trade can become one way to promote global cooperation, and then further the cause of human rights.
But, with this perspective in mind, it should also become apparent that there are many more problems in the world that require remedies far beyond increased global trade. The latest World Report by Human Rights Watch highlights these various problems, and also considers how US power and influence has found it "convenient to appear credulous" to violators of human rights. The World Report does not criticize the US for trading with dictators of the world, but with having "fallen victim to the tendencies to bank on the 'democrat' [in reality the dictator] rather than democratic principles."
"If [established democracies] accept any dictator who puts on the charade of an election, if they allow their commitment to democracy to be watered down by their pursuit of resources, commercial opportunities, and short-sighted visions of security, they will devalue the currency of democracy. And if dictators can get away with calling themselves 'democrats,' they will have acquired a powerful tool for deflecting pressure to uphold human rights."
The US, and its citizens, have a great responsibility to evaluate their policies seriously and apply strict principles that defend the cherished values of democracy and human rights. These are ethical and moral decisions to make, but must nevertheless be argued. But, in the case of economic sanctions, its supporters have a much heavier burden to bear, especially in the face of facts that no longer justify its cruel application.
[Read the Human Rights Watch World Report chapter on Cuba.]
[And the chapter on the United States.]