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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bearing witness and demanding justice for Brothers to the Rescue

"For the dead and the living, we must bear witness." - Elie Wiesel (1978)

Silent vigil on February 24, 2015 demanding justice for the four men in 2 Brothers to the Rescue planes killed in 1996

On December 29, 2014 in an open letter signed by past and present members of the Free Cuba Foundation it was announced that on February 24, 2015 they would be gathering at the main fountain at Florida International University. An abbreviated version of the letter was published in The Huffington Post on January 30, 2015 with title: Not in Our Name expressing deep concerns over the actions of the Obama administration on December 17, 2014.
FCF is concerned that releasing the three remaining spies, including Gerardo Hernandez -- who was serving two life sentences, one of them for conspiracy to murder four members of Brothers to the Rescue in exchange for Gross and an unknown Cuban intelligence operative -- may lead to the Castro regime murdering more innocents inside and outside of Cuba.
 Two days after the new Cuba policy announcement President Obama spoke about the February 24, 1996 shoot down in terms that were factually inaccurate and called attention to his misrepresentations about what took place during that day.
FCF and its members are disturbed by the President's statement on December 19,2014 that the 1996 shoot down was not a premeditated move by Castro but a "tragic circumstance." This statement was deficient on two basic points. First of all, two planes were shot down over international airspace not one as he stated in the press conference. More importantly, the president's statement ignored documented evidence as well as court decisions and investigations by international human rights bodies that have concluded that the attack was indeed a premeditated extrajudicial execution.
 Last week on February 24th the silent vigil for justice took place at Florida International University and received press coverage. This is a tradition that began in 1996 and has been continued every year thereafter remembering that the shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue planes on February 24, 1996, by Castro regime MiGs caused the untimely deaths of Armando Alejandre Jr. (age 45), Carlos Alberto Costa (age 29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (age 24) and Pablo Morales (age 29).  In 2015 this silent vigil took place on the eve of President Barack Obama's visit to Florida International University for a Townhall meeting on immigration.

Miriam de la Peña, whose son Mario de la Peña, was one of the four men murdered by the Castro regime in the shoot down, spoke on camera summarizing the events that led to her son's death and concluded by asking President Obama: Why did he free her son's murderer who was serving a double life sentence?

Next year will mark 20 years since this terrible crime was committed and the continued impunity surrounding the shoot down demands that we once again gather to bear witness and demand justice with this silent vigil. G-d willing, we will be there once again on February 24, 2016 from 3:21pm to 3:27pm.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Czech NGO demands release for Cuban artist arbitrarily detained for two months

 February 26 marks two months that El Sexto has been arbitrarily detained.

Danilo Maldonadoa.k.a. El Sexto detained since Dec 26

Two months in jail for a performace that never took place

Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto (The Sixth), was detained on December 26, 2014 on the Malecón esplanade in Havana as he was driving towards the Central Park to make a performance with two pigs whose bodies were painted with the names of Cuban leaders: “Fidel” and “Raúl.“

Today, almost two month later, El Sexto remains in jail in Valle Grande, has been accused of “disrespect“and is awaiting a trial.  According to his relatives, he came down with pneumonia and has not received any medical care. In the beginning of this year, the Cuban authorities refused his application for habeas corpus submitted by Laritza Diversent, an attorney who denounced his arbitrary detention.

The fate of El Sexto is similar to the one of other Cuban opposition members who, in the past few years, have also suffered from arbitrary detentions without judicial guarantees. Despite the release of 53 political prisoners who were set free by the Cuban regime in the framework of the recent political opening with the United States, the situation of Cuban activists remains precarious.

Only a few days after El Sexto’s detention, on December 30, the Cuban artist, Tania Bruguera, organized an open microphone event during which people were invited to freely express their opinions on the Revolutionary Square. However, the event was boycotted by the police and the participants were brutally repressed. Tania Bruguera was arrested the night before and was released few days after the detention. Currently she is awaiting authorities to press charges against her.

There has been thawing of relations between Cuba and the United States and many people believe that the economic changes will contribute to a political opening on the island. However, performances similar to those organized by El Sexto or Tania Bruguera are still not welcomed. The message is clear: the art and politics have to remain separate and the critical irony will continue not to be accepted by the government. That’s why, now more than ever, it is important to keep an eye on the situation of the Cuban civil society. 

The People in Need demands an immediate release of Danilo Maldonado and urges international organizations to continue monitoring the works of artists and activists who, in this time of change in Cuba, continue fighting for free exercise of their political rights and individual freedoms.

Dos meses en la carcel por una performance que nunca  tuvo lugar

El grafitero Danilo Maldonado, conocido como El Sexto, fue detenido el 26 de diciembre en el Malecón de La Habana cuando se dirigía con un auto hacia el Parque Central, con dos cerdos, para hacer una performance. Los cerdos llevaban inscritos los nombres „Fidel“ y „Raúl“ respectivamente.

Hoy, casi dos meses después,  El Sexto permanece encerrado en la cárcel Valle Grande, acusado de un delito de „desacato“ y en espera de juicio. Según han informado sus familiares, ha enfermado de neumonía y no está recibiendo tratamiento médico. A principios de año, las autoridades rechazaron un recurso de habeas corpus presentado por la abogada Laritza Diversent que denunciaba su detención arbitraria.

La encarcelación de El Sexto no es muy diferente a las que lllevan sufriendo los opositores en Cuba durante los últimos años, de forma arbitraria y sin garantías judiciales. A pesar de la liberación de 53 presos políticos que el gobierno cubano a puesto en práctica recientemente en el marco del acercamiento con Estados Unidos, la situación de los activistas  continúa siendo precaria.

Tan solo unos días después de la dentención de El Sexto, el 30 de diciembre, otra performance organizada por la artista Tania Bruguera en la plaza de la Revolución, consistente en un micrófono abierto donde la gente podía expresar libremente sus opiniones, fue igualmente boicoteada por la policía, y sus participantes duramente reprimidos. Tania Bruguera había sido arrestada en su casa la noche anterior, y fue puesta en libertad unos días después. Ahora está a la espera de que se le presenten cargos.

Cuba y Estados Unidos han empezado a dialogar, y muchos confían en el poder de la economía para traer cambios políticos, pero lo cierto es que performances como las de El Sexto o la de Tania Bruguera siguen sin ser bienvenidas en Cuba. El mensaje está muy claro: arte y realidad política deben permanecer separados, y la crítica y la ironía van a seguir sin ser aceptadas por el gobierno. Por eso, ahora más que nunca, es importante observar con atención la evolución en la situación de la sociedad civil cubana.

Desde People in Need exigimos la inmediata puesta en libertad de Danilo Maldonado e instamos a los organismos internacionales a mantenerse alerta al trabajo de artistas y activistas que seguirán luchando el desarrollo de los derechos políticos y las libertades individuales en Cuba en estos tiempos de cambio.

People in Need - Human Rights and Democracy - rewriting Cuba,

Monday, February 23, 2015

Silent Vigil for Justice for Shootdown Victims

For Justice

Family members, Students and University Community
To Hold Silent Vigil for Shootdown Victims 

Non-Violent protest at FIU on eve of President Obama’s town hall meeting  

Family members, students and members of the university community will be holding a silent vigil for justice for the four victims of the February 24, 1996 shoot down. The vigil will take place at the main fountain at Florida International University located between the Charles E. Perry Bldg. (Primera Casa) and the Green Library on February 24, Tuesday from 3:21pm to 3:27pm the times both planes were shot down. Family members and students will be there beginning at 3:00pm.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 will mark 19 years since Fidel and Raul Castro ordered Cuban MiGs to hunt and shoot down two Brothers to the Rescue planes that at the time were in international airspace killing Armando Alejandre Jr. (45 years old), Carlos Alberto Costa (29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (24), and Pablo Morales (29). A thorough international investigation carried out by the Inter-American Commission on the merits made public in 1999 concluded: that the Castro regime was legally responsible for their murders and for the lack of justice.

Successful civil lawsuits have been brought against the Castro regime by the families of the victims, but criminal prosecutions of those responsible, save one case, have not been carried out. On December 12, 2001 Gerardo Hernandez, a Cuban spy ,was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder for his role in providing information that led to the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. Unfortunately, President Barack Obama on December 17, 2014 commuted his life sentence and returned Mr. Hernandez to Cuba. Families have expressed feeling misled by the United States government.

The vigil has been carried out annually since 1996 by members of the Free Cuba Foundation, a student movement founded at FIU in 1993.

WHO:      Family members of four men killed on February 24, 1996 
                FIU students
                Members of the University Community

WHERE: Main Fountain at Florida International University
               Located between the Green Library and Charles E. Perry bldg
              11200 Southwest 8th Street, Miami, FL 33199

WHAT:   Silent vigil for justice for the victims of the February 24, 1996 shoot down

WHEN:  Tuesday, February 24 gathering at 3pm event starts at 3:21pm sharp

Where were you the day Orlando Zapata Tamayo died five years ago?

Where were you the day you got the news that Orlando Zapata Tamayo died five years ago on February 23, 2010? 

Orlando Zapata Tamayo

 Do you even know who Orlando Zapata Tamayo was?

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was a Cuban bricklayer and human rights defender who worked with human rights heroes  Oscar Elias Biscet, and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas in campaigns to educate Cubans on human rights and to reclaim those rights in the Project Varela petition drive.

He was imprisoned in 2003 and continuously beaten and tortured for seven years for continuing his defiance of the dictatorship and defense of human rights behind bars. In late 2009 in order to protest mistreatment he went on hunger strike and prison officials responded by taking his water away in order to break his spirit. Instead they killed him. Amnesty International said "Cuban authorities responsible for activist's death on hunger strike."  

The uproar caused by his death was a key factor in the later release over the course of 2010 and 2011 of the remaining prisoners of conscience imprisoned since 2003.

Returning to the original question in abbreviated form: "Where were you the day Orlando Zapata Tamayo died?"

The Canadian punk rock band I.H.A.D. asked the question in a song simply titled "Orlando Zapata" and we after requesting their permission produced the video below accompanying their song.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Take six minutes to denounce state terrorism on February 24th

Take part in Cuba's national reconciliation
On September 29, 1999 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a report on the merits concerning the Brothers  to the Rescue shoot down. The report begins as follows:  

"On 25 February 1996, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Commission” or “the Inter-American Commission”) received several complaints brought against the Republic of Cuba (hereinafter “the State,” “the Cuban State,” or “Cuba”) according to which a MiG-29 military aircraft belonging to the Cuban Air Force (FAC) downed two unarmed civilian light airplanes belonging to the organization “Brothers to the Rescue.”[1] According to a report issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the incidents occurred on 24 February 1996 at 3:21 p.m. and 3:27 p.m., respectively, in international airspace. The air-to-air missiles fired by the MiG-29 destroyed the civilian light aircraft, immediately killing Armando Alejandre Jr. (45 years old), Carlos Alberto Costa (29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (24), and Pablo Morales (29). The complaint concludes with the Commission being requested to begin proceedings in accordance with Articles 32 et seq. of its Regulations and to declare Cuba responsible for failing to comply with its international obligations contained in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (hereinafter “the Declaration” or “the American Declaration”) for violating the right to life and the right to a fair trial as set forth in Articles I and XVIII of said international instrument."
International human rights bodies and courts have concluded that the attack was a premeditated extrajudicial execution that claimed four lives. Until December 15, 2014 when President Barack Obama commuted his sentence and returned him to Cuba two days later, Gerardo Hernandez, was the only person who had been charged, convicted in a court of law, and was serving a life sentence:

1) Radio communications between the MiG29 and the military base clearly show that the fighter planes were sent out before the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft arrived at the 24th parallel level, that they were searching for a specific target, and that they even decided not to attempt any warning maneuvers to make the shoot down easier for the Cuban MiG pilots. 

2) The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ conclusion stated the following: “From the circumstances surrounding the events of 24 February 1996, from the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of lethal force applied to the civilian aircraft, from the intensity of that force, and from the way in which the authorities at the Havana military control tower congratulated the MiG-29 pilots after they had carried out their orders, the Commission finds sufficient evidence that Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario De La Peña, and Armando Alejandre were arbitrarily or extrajudicially executed at the hands of agents of the Cuban State. Consequently, the Cuban State is responsible for violating the right to life, as enshrined in Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.”
3) U.S. courts have also found the Castro regime guilty of premeditation in this shoot down:

A.) U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King found the Castro regime guilty in civil court of planning the shoot down before the actual attack, and noted that there had been ample time to issue warnings to the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft if these had been needed. B.) A jury in criminal court presided by U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard found Miami-based Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez guilty of conspiracy to commit murder because of his role in providing information to the Cuban government on the flight plans of Brothers to the Rescue. C.) On August 21, 2003 a U.S. grand jury indicted the two fighter pilots and their commanding general on murder charges for the 1996 shoot down.
4) A Cuban pilot saw Cuban MiGs rehearsing the shoot down six days before.
General Ruben Martinez Puente, Francisco Perez-Perez, Lorenzo Alberto Perez Perez who were indicted on four counts of murder, two counts of destruction of aircraft and one count of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals in August of 2003 and Juan Pablo Roque indicted in May 1999 as a foreign agent (although he also played a role in the shoot down) have yet to be pursued to the full extent of the law.

The silent vigil held on February 24th every year is a call to remembers the facts in the service of truth while demanding justice. Truth, memory and justice are necessary elements for a real and lasting national reconciliation. 

Join the hundreds of Florida International University students who since 1996 have stood up for national reconciliation in Cuba by demanding truth and justice in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Open letter to Congress opposes Obama's new Cuba policy

Former Diplomats, University Professors, Representatives of Cuba’s Democratic Opposition on the Island and in Exile, and Former Corporate Leaders Write to Congress on President Obama’s New Cuba Policy.

Fifty-eight former diplomats, university professors, leaders of Cuba's democratic opposition on the island and in exile, and former corporate leaders wrote an open letter to Congress objecting to President Obama's efforts to remove the Castros’ regime from the State Department list of governments supportive of terrorism.

The letter: “The New Cuba Policy: Breakthrough or Bailout?,” was distributed on Capitol Hill today and says that “increasing U.S. travel to Cuba under the Castro-manipulated people-to-people program will benefit the military which owns all of Cuba’s hotels and tourist infrastructure.”

Among those signing the appeal to Congress are Paula Dobriansky, former Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, James Cason, former U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay and former Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, Ambassador Phillip Hughes, former Executive Secretary, National Security Council and former U.S. Ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean, Everett Ellis Briggs, former U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Panama, and Portugal and former President of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.

“Removing Cuba from the list of terrorist states will reward the Castro regime for smuggling 240 tons of heavy weapons to North Korea, training and equipping Venezuela’s repressive forces, offering Russia’s Putin an espionage listening post in Cuba, and harboring dozens of fugitive terrorists and criminals, including one of the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists, Assata Shakur,” they said. They added that “Cuba is the only “state-sponsored of terrorism” nation to openly harbor a fugitive on the most-wanted terrorist list.”

The corporate community was represented by: Emilio Alvarez-Recio, former Vicepresident Worldwide Advertising of Colgate-Palmolive, Néstor T. Carbonell, former Vicepresident for International Government Affairs of Pepsico, Ruben Rodriguez-Wallin, former Chairman and CEO of Bacardi, and Alberto Luzarraga, former Chairman of Continental Bank International.

Also signing were Michael Gonzalez, Senior Fellow, The Heritage Foundation, former U.S. Senator Mel Martinez, Robert O’Brien, Treasurer, Center for a Free Cuba, and José Sorzano, former Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Two of the signatories: Miriam and Mario de la Peña are parents of Mario M. de la Peña, one of four pilots murdered by Cuban warplanes in international airspace in 1996." "One of the spies exchanged by President Obama was serving a life sentence for his role in those murders," the letter says.  General Raul Castro, then Cuba's Minister of the Armed Forces" ordered the murders and later awarded medals to the officers who pulled the trigger."

The project to raise this issue with the Congress honors the “memory of Manuel Jorge Cutillas and his lifelong dedication to the cause of freedom in Cuba." 

Following is the full text of the letter to the Congress including signatories. The signatories have signed this letter in their personal capacities; they do not reflect the views of their company, organization or university, current or past. Center for Free Cuba is a 501-c3 organization according to the Internal Revenue Service. The Center neither supports nor opposes any legislation before Congress. If you would like to add your name then sign here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Denounce Terrorism: Take Six Minutes To Protest BTTR Shootdown

"There is no forgiveness for acts of hatred. Daggers thrust in the name of liberty are thrust into liberty's heart. " - Jose Marti
On February 24, 2015 at beginning at 3:21pm and ending at 3:27pm we will be holding a silent vigil to demand justice for the four victims of the 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down that took place 19 years ago on that day, and for the students murdered by agents of the Maduro puppet regime in Venezuela last February, and finally in remembrance of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the Cuban hunger striker who died on February 23, 2010 after years of torture. These were acts of state terrorism.

Unfortunately, this year we will also be silently protesting the release of the Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez who was serving a life sentence for conspiracy to murder Mario, Pablo, Carlos, and Armando was freed by the Obama Administration in a trade that violated the spirit of the rule of law and justice.

This vigil will be held were it has been for the past 19 years at the main fountain at Florida International University at the campus located on 107th Ave. and SW 8 St. This is an open invitation for FIU students and members of the university community.