Maggie Alarcón

Archive for the ‘Human Rights/Derechos Humanos’ Category

Defending the defensible

In Blockade, CAFE, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Americans, Ecuador, Education, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Miami/Cuba, Politics, US on August 7, 2012 at 2:40 pm



For Gerardo, René, Antonio, Fernando and Ramón, thank you.


Margarita Alarcón Perea


I have written about the Cuban Five  and have posted even more on this blog site about the subject. Five men unjustly imprisoned in the United States, serving long Machiavellian sentences for a crime they did not commit. It’s a long story that most have not heard about and should really learn more on.

Since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution back in January of 1959, Cuba had to establish one of the best Intelligence networks the world has ever known. Often times compared to Israel’s Mossad, not because of its record for killing but yes for its record as an  intelligence service. The island was struck with numerous blows both on a military scale (Bay of Pigs Invasion, Missile Crisis, explosion of the Cargo Ship La Coubre), as it was a victim of terrorist attacks on civilian targets (Fire at the El Encanto department store, fire at the “Amadeo Roldán” TheaterCubana Flight 422) or multiple terrorist biological attacks on crops and livestock and of course direct terrorist attacks on individuals throughout the more than half a century of tension between the island and its closest neighbor to the north.

All of these attacks have been proven to come from the Cuban American community living in the South of Florida and working directly under the noses of the CIA, the FBI and the White House. This is not news to anyone who has been alive and paying attention for the past fifty years.

For a good part of those years, the excuse was that Cuba was a satellite nation of the Soviet Union and since the Cold War was on, Cuba was considered a nation to be exporting revolution and  it was an accepted fact that it  was the enemy and that the island and its people were a valid target. After the demise of the USSR and the socialist block in Eastern Europe it would have been logical to expect a change in these policies and I like to think that on many levels in the CIA, the FBI and the White House this is the case but unfortunately these same institutions created a Frankenstein that is now a rogue killer and completely out of control.

One of the “revolution” exports was Nicaragua and then Angola and Namibia and South Africa. Nicaragua was “taken care” of by the Reagan Administration and Angola, Namibia and South Africa were, well, let’s just say, that former President Nelson Mandela has publicly acknowledged the role of Fidel Castro and his people in not only freeing him but also in putting an end to that gruesome system known as apartheid in that region of the world.

Yet the Cuban Five are a term we who love Cuba and its sovereignty use over and over again. What is it? Well, it’s not an “it” per se. It’s the term used to refer to five men who infiltrated Cuban American terrorist networks to try to put an end to terrorist activities against the island years after the fall of the Berlin wall, years after the end of the Cold War and years after so called “democracies” were taking over much of the hemisphere. Because you see, it wasn’t the Cold War or the “exporting” of Revolution or even the fact that Cuba is the only island to stand in the face of imperialism and win.

The  Cuban Five are men who were standing up for things that the Cuban Revolution stands for and that are now becoming  a reality the world over. These men were protecting not only their homeland, they were protecting what their homeland stands for in the rest of the world.

Cuba today, is guilty of one thing only. It is guilty of having been in Haiti with 400 doctors collaborating with the country when the earthquake hit in 2010. It is guilty of having sent another 5000 to Pakistan shortly after another such natural disaster struck the mountains in that eastern nation. It is also guilty of having guaranteed that some 6.5 million citizens in 28 nations are no longer illiterate persons thanks to the Cuban Literacy Program known as “Yes, I Can.” A figure that surpasses all statistics reported by other similar programs implemented thus far around the world. Here is the humdinger: the cost of the course depends on the conception of how to apply the program. Depending on the application of the program and the teaching means, including a TV set and a DVD player, teaching a person how to read and write does not cost more than five dollars.

And that is one of the main things the Cuban Five were defending, Cuba’s right to “export” literacy at a cost of FIVE dollars a pupil.

How can anybody condemn anyone for defending something like that?

NYT Photos Don’t Do Justice to Police Presence at Anaheim Protests

In ACLU, Arts, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, National Lawyers Guild, Occupy Wall Street, US on August 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm


By Vivien Weisman Lesnik

Originally published in the  Huffington Post

A picture is worth a thousand words is often used as short hand for the power of an image to convey information and elicit emotion. But a snap shot in time can distort reality and mislead, as is the case of the NYT’s photo of police in formation in Anaheim with the caption” No Passage to Disneyland.”

The real story in Anaheim this weekend was that the protests that were sparked by the Anaheim police killing of two Latino men, Manuel Diaz and Joel Acevedo, was the massive police presence that met a mere 100 to 150 peaceful protestors.

When I arrived at the Anaheim police station I expected to see a police force prepared for a demonstration and possible unruly behavior as tensions had been high all week. Since the shootings, a canine had been unleashed on an unarmed crowd of mostly women and children, and many rounds of non-lethal “rubber bullets” had been fired at the citizens of Anaheim.

Never did I forsee the scene before my eyes. I was shocked and frightened by the show of force. At about 3pm the demonstrators left the APD and marched toward Disneyland.

The NYT photo is taken from a particular angle and at a particular point in time and cropped in such a way that it minimizes the degree of police presence at the scene.

Here is the photo taken minutes later (the police are now wearing riot gear) from a slightly different angle and un-cropped to include what the NYT excluded, the “militarized police” in camouflage fatigues, grenade launchers and battle ready. Why would the APD wear camouflage fatigues? In an urban setting the fatigues have the effect of making the wearer stand out rather than blend and bring to mind a battle zone with all the danger and terror that connotes. The NYT seems to have taken great pains to show us only three policemen because everywhere the eye could see there was a phalanx of said “militarized police.”

The families and friends of the deceased, as well as a mixture of social justice organizations, political left groups, and OWS ( mostly from Orange County, Los Angeles and Oakland with their team of live- streamers), gathered outside of the Anaheim Police station at noon.

The police presence was astounding. Police in and out of riot gear stood in formation behind a rubber barricade. Snipers were on the roofs of the station and the church across the street, with lethal power weapons pointed at the crowd below.

A cavalry of about 20 large horses soon arrived, adding additional tension to the demonstration. Still the most astounding aspect was the fatigue clad “militarized police” presence.

The police presence was disproportionate to the numbers and demeanor of the demonstrators.

The question is why did the NYT seem to downplay the police presence? Is the MSM under a government prohibition of showing photos of this type of display? Is this like the prohibition against showing the coffins and the dead from our wars? Sadly, an outright prohibition would probably be superfluous as the NYT does such a great job of policing itself. The rest of the news organizations seem to fall into formation, including the left establishment press.

If you are reading this blog, Huffington Post continues to be the exception.

The photos, with the exception of the NYT’s, are generously provided by the dedicated streamers, photographers, and activists of OWS and others under Creative Commons.

Sunday afternoon, as the police presence mounted and the arrests began, the demonstrator’s chant “The Whole World is Watching” rang loud. Live-streamers, citizen journalists and activists captured, documented and tweeted.

On Monday, the NYT ultimately muted and distorted.

Mike Farrell, a member of US Actors and Artists United for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 sent this letter to President Obama:

In Alan Gross, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Politics, US on July 13, 2012 at 11:00 am

Mike Farrell – actor/activist


Dear President Obama,

Though I fear your staff protects you from letters such as this, I write in the hope that one of our voices leaks through. I am one of thousands of people around the world who ask that you make a humanitarian gesture that is also a meaningful step to reduce international tensions: grant Executive Clemency and cause the release of the Cuban 5, who have been wrongly held in our prisons for nearly 14 years.

Together with a number of colleagues in the arts who speak as Actors and Artists United for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, I ask for the release of these five men: Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Ramón Labañino Salazar, Rene González Sehwerert, Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez and Fernando González Llort.

Release them because they are sons, husbands, brothers, poets, pilots, college graduates and artists who have committed no crime against the United States.

Release them because they came to this country unarmed and never posed a threat of any kind to US National Security.

Release them because they came here only to monitor the activities of violent Cuban exiles who, operating from bases in Miami of which our government is well aware, were planning violent actions against innocent people in Cuba.

Release them because they were trying to prevent more brutal acts against their country and save innocent lives.

As you’re aware, Mr. President, this month was our Independence Day, a day many politicians use to celebrate our nation’s laws, its history, and its people. For many of these same politicians, supporting the so-called “war on terror” is used as a way to demonstrate their patriotism.

That being so, it is an act of profound hypocrisy for our government to continue the incarceration of these heroic men who put themselves at risk to stop the very terrorism we claim to find so abhorrent.

Therefore, I respectfully ask that you to reverse this mockery of justice and use the power conferred on you by our Constitution to do the right thing and allow the Cuban 5 to return home to their loved ones.


Mike Farrell


Published in The Huffington Post

La Jornada Supports Asylum for Assange

In CELAC, Ecuador, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Julian Assange, OAS/OEA, Politics, Press, Rafael Correa, US, Wikileaks on June 26, 2012 at 12:39 pm


Press in front of the Embassy of Ecuador in the UK



By Tom Hayden

MEXICO CITY – The leading Mexican paper La Jornada is strongly supporting asylum for Julian Assange in Ecuador, in a sign of Latin American sentiment against his extradition to Sweden or the United States. The conflict is portrayed as one between the Old World and new democratic norms embraced by much of the world. “Ecuador will require the solidarity of honorable governments and societies like ours, which benefitted from the work of Assange and his team, and have obtained by way of their “leaks,” an invaluable tool for public scrutiny and social control of the authorities and world powers” a June 20 editorial declared.

Whatever response the Rafael Correa government gives Assange, the existence of a political refugee in contemporary Europe, the legal fury being directed against him by the authorities of two Old World countries, England and Sweden, and the silence of the Western powers in regard to this situation, demonstrates the hypocrisy and moral and political bankruptcy of governments that repeatedly claim to be champions of freedom, transparency, legality and respect for human rights”, the editorial went on.

“In this connection, it is worth mentioning that yesterday, while Assange was seeking political asylum at the Ecuador Embassy to avoid being extradited to Swedish territory, representatives of these powers attended the G-20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, where there was confirmation of their inability to come up with proposals for resolving the social and economic devastation that confronts their populations, particularly in European countries.”


In Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Latin America, Politics, US on June 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm

President of Ecuador Rafael Correa left. Founder of Wikileaks Julian Assange right. (all possible puns intended!)

By Tom Hayden

Originally published in The Nation

In what might escalate into a major setback for the US government, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has taken refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in London and is seeking political asylum in that Latin American country. Relations between the US and most Latin American countries- and many others  around the world- are sure to be aggravated if the White House reacts negatively or tries to block an Ecuadoran asylum decision. It seems inconceivable that Ecuador will simply turn Assange over to the US or UK  authorities, setting the stage for a showdown with global repercussions.

President Rafael Correa is a progressive and populist economist who already has expelled a US military base from his country, survived an attempted coup and capture by right-wing military plotters, and expelled an American  ambassador in 2011 based on WikiLeaks revelations. Last year an Ecuadoran  court fined Chevron $8.6 billion for damage to the Amazon basin, a decision  which Correa called ³the most important in the history of the country.²  Correa also violated the tenets of US-imposed neoliberal policies by  endorsing Venezuela and Bolivia in refusing debt repayments to the International Monetary Fund in 2008. In a preview of things to come, Correa and Assange participated in a televised question-and-answer session last month on the Russia-sponsored network RT. Moscow has been a strong supporter of Assange, with Vladimer  Putin nominating the WikiLeaks founder for a Nobel prize.

US-aligned NGOs like Freedom House are attacking the Ecuadoran government for its attempts to contain private media corporations hostile to Correa¹s politics and domestic economic agenda. Correa generally is aligned with the  left-bloc of Latin American countries, although he enjoys positive diplomatic relations across most of the continent. In an example of the mainstream media distortion of all things Latin American, Reuters recently described Correa as a critic of US ³imperialism² in quotation marks. Nevertheless, the US has leverage in Ecuador as the country¹s largest trading partner, but with China and Latin American partners rising.

For more information link to

For WikiLeaks cables on US-Ecuadoran relations, link to

Castro on Democracy Now!

In Alan Gross, Blockade, CENESEX, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Embargo, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, LGBT, Miami/Cuba, Politics on June 20, 2012 at 10:48 am

Mariela Castro Espín on Democracy Now! live at the firehouse in New York City


<pAMY GOODMAN: In a Democracy Now! special, we begin our show today with a rare U.S. interview with the daughter of the Cuban president, Raúl Castro, and First Lady Vilma Espín. Her name is Mariela Castro. She’s best known in Cuba for her ardent support of gay, lesbian and transgender rights and as the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana.

Mariela Castro was recently granted a visa for a rare trip to the United States. Democracy Now! had a chance to sit down with her last week at the Cuban consulate here in New York City. We talked not only about her work combating homophobia, but also her thoughts on the Cuban Five and what’s happening in Cuba 50 years after the start of the U.S. embargo. She called on the United States to release five Cubans jailed for spying on violent anti-Cuban militants in exchange for U.S. citizen Alan Gross, who was arrested in Cuba in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years on charges of subversion. She says, “Free the six.”

We turn now to my interview with Mariela Castro. I began by asking her about what brought her to the United States. Mariela Castro was translated by Elizabeth Coll.

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I presented my work at the Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, which was held last week in San Francisco. I was also invited by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the work that you’re doing in Cuba.

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I am the director of the National Center of Sexual Education. This is an academic center that is part of the Ministry of Public Health. Its mission is to coordinate the national program of sexual education with a multidisciplinary focus which coordinates different sectors.

AMY GOODMAN: Why have you chosen to make sexuality and the politics of sexuality your issue? You, yourself, are heterosexual. You’re married to a man. You have three children.

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] This is work that my mother began with the Federation of Cuban Women. She was the one who created CENESEX. Though professionally I worked with preschool children and adolescents, as I heard about the difficulties of LGBT people, I began to sympathize with their needs and problems. Many LGBT couples chose to come to counseling sessions with me, and as I listened to them, I started to study, to find tools to be able to help them.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve come to the United States at an interesting time. The president, President Obama, has just endorsed same-sex marriage, marriage equality. What are your thoughts about that?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I think it’s very valuable that the president of the United States speaks out publicly in favor of the rights of same-sex couples. Being the most powerful country in the world, what the president says has great influence on the rest of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet we do not have across-the-board law that says that same-sex marriage is accepted. And in Cuba, you don’t, either. What are you doing in Cuba to change the laws?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] In Cuba, CENESEX is leading an educational strategy, with the support of the media, to promote respect for free and responsible sexual orientation and gender identity. We are also doing some advocacy with state institutions and civil society organizations, so that they support this educational strategy. Beyond the educational strategy and our media strategy, we are also promoting legislative initiatives that support the same rights for homosexuals and transgender people, so that, for example, the family code recognizes the rights of these people and also their possibilities as couples, the legalization of their union as a couple.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you pushing for same-sex marriage in Cuba?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I am promoting marriage, but it was not accepted by many groups of people. And so, what we are negotiating is the legalization of consensual unions and that the legalization of these unions would guarantee, more than anything, their property rights, inheritance rights.

AMY GOODMAN: So, do same-sex couples have the same economic rights as heterosexual couples?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] All rights are guaranteed for all people. There is no exclusion for LGBT people. But where there is still not respect for their rights is around the guarantee that if one member of a same-sex couple dies, the survivor be recognized as the person who should receive the inheritance, or even just be allowed to enjoy the goods that they had enjoyed as a couple.

AMY GOODMAN: Presumably, you have your father’s ear, the president of Cuba. How does he feel about making it fully equal between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] He is convinced that it is necessary, that it is part of the project of full justice the Cuban Revolution proposes.

AMY GOODMAN: Is he supportive like you are?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] He has been supportive since before, from when my mother was working on these issues.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about gay men and lesbians in the military?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] In all of Cuban society, there are all kinds of people. In the army, as well, there are homosexuals and lesbians. They don’t manifest it publicly, but they are there.

AMY GOODMAN: If it is known, if they are open, would they be kicked out of the military?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I see that the rules have become more flexible. Of course, before, they were more rigid. I think that in all Cuban society, the policy and laws are becoming more flexible. And the same will happen in the army.

AMY GOODMAN: We return to my conversation with Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro. I asked her about the Cuban Five, the five men convicted in 2001 for spying on violent anti-Castro militants in the United States.

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] As part of the Cuban population, I am committed to fighting for the liberation of the five Cubans, in this case, four Cubans who are imprisoned and one who is out on probation in Miami. And, really, they are serving very severe sentences that do not correspond with the evidence. There is no evidence for such severe sentences. If they had been tried justly, they would have already completed their sentences. And yet, they are still prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: I dare say most Americans don’t even know who they are, why they’re in jail. Can you explain?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] It has been silenced because it is a kind of political vendetta. You know that Cuba, since the beginning of the revolution, has been the victim of terrorist attempts, organized and perpetrated by terrorist groups based in Miami of Cubans who have even confessed to be killers. They have confessed their crimes, even in books that have been published and in interviews on television. But they have not been brought to justice. However, Cuba has more than 5,000 victims of state terrorism between the dead and the wounded. Thus, as a society, as a sovereign nation, we have the right to defend ourselves, and we do it peacefully.

How? Infiltrating Cuban people who identify with the revolution, infiltrating them into these terrorist groups to alert the Cuban government as to when these terrorist attacks were going to take place, in order to be able to thwart the attempts and defend our population. These terrorist groups enjoy great economic and political power in Florida, and thus, judgments were made that violate the laws of the United States, and they were made in Miami by totally partial judges who oppose the process of the Cuban Revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: Would the Cuban government be open to a prisoner swap, the Cuban Five for Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned by the Cuban government?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] The Cuban government has expressed interest in finding a negotiated solution on humanitarian terms, and of course it is fully disposed to negotiate with the government of the United States. But it has not received any response.

AMY GOODMAN: Cuban-American Congress members in the United States have condemned the Obama administration for giving you a visa into the United States. Díaz-Balart, Congressman Díaz-Balart, said, “It is appalling that the Obama administration is welcoming high-level agents of the Castro dictatorship onto U.S. soil. While the Cuban people are struggling for basic freedoms in the face of increasingly brutal repression…”

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says, “Mariela Castro is part of a ruthless dictatorship that has oppressed the Cuban people for more than half a century. She wants to spew [out] the lies and propaganda of her family’s failed regime and doesn’t want to answer questions from a free and independent media.”

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I am not going to respond to the mediocre yellow press that she tries to impose on me, which for 50 years has spread lies about the Cuban Revolution. I also want to say about these Cuban congresspeople that you mentioned, everyone in the United States and Cuba knows that they promote laws that violate the rights of Americans to travel to Cuba, that violate the rights of the Cuban community and Cuban descendants in the United States, who are 1.8 million people, to travel freely to Cuba to reunite with their families. These people are constantly promoting legislation that worsens the economic blockade. And with the revolutionary government of these more than 50 years, the Cuban people have found freedom and full justice.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been allowed into the United States under the Bush administration.

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I entered in 2002 for another congress in Los Angeles.

AMY GOODMAN: What would a lifting of the U.S. embargo against Cuba mean for your country, Mariela Castro?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] In the first place, it would mean that the government of the United States would begin to respect international law. It would mean the beginning of the end of one of the worst human rights violations: that suffered by the Cuban people because of the blockade. For Cuba, it would mean access to development that has been limited by the blockade. And Americans and Cubans could meet in friendship, without the mediation of these unscrupulous congresspeople who manipulate the policy of the United States towards Cuba in service of their personal power and economic interests, and not in function of the necessities of the Cuban people both within Cuba and beyond.

AMY GOODMAN: Your father, President Castro, has been making a transition in Cuba. Can you talk about the changes that you think are most important for people in the United States to understand?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] One of the most important changes is that the new economic and social strategy has been designed with the full participation of all the Cuban population, who have participated in the debates, both to question the current reality as well as to propose what changes should be made.

AMY GOODMAN: There is a lot of discussion of a post-Castro Cuba. What do you think that would look like?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] The same—with the same strategy of socialist development, which is always looking for more efficient mechanisms to support social justice and national sovereignty, and also with new public figures, because there are many people participating in Cuba in all the decisions. So that would mean new faces for the media. But for Cubans, those faces would not be new.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you consider the presidency of Cuba?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] No. That job doesn’t interest me.


MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I like my job.

AMY GOODMAN: There are other socialist governments in Latin America—Bolivia, Venezuela—where there are elections. Would Cuba go in that direction?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I think Cuba has publicly expressed what the mechanisms of popular election will be, and what is being proposed is to perfect them, not repeat what others do.

AMY GOODMAN: What would it look like?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] Well, how we do it now is through mechanisms of popular election. It is the people who nominate their leaders. Term limits have been established, and the president, my father, is included in these term limits. This has been the result of a collective discussion, to give opportunities to others, so that they assume their responsibilities. And the mechanisms of control are being perfected so that the people have access to the control of the mechanisms of power.

AMY GOODMAN: How is the health of your uncle, Fidel Castro?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I just want to add, in Cuba, we don’t have electoral campaigns, and the Communist Party doesn’t field candidates. And the leaders don’t receive an additional salary. And the legislators don’t receive an additional salary, because they are still doing their jobs. So positions of power in Cuba do not generate economic interests in people.

Fidel looks like he’s doing really well. He is an octogenarian, so he doesn’t have the same vitality that characterized him his whole life—that where there was a problem, Fidel was there with the people looking for solutions; that where there was a threat or danger, Fidel was right there in front of his people. Fidel is now giving us the privilege of his writing, of the writing of history. There are things that only he knows. And he is giving us a marvelous historical legacy that gives the Cuban people a spiritual strength that is priceless.

AMY GOODMAN: How did he manage to survive? I believe it’s more than 600 assassination attempts by the United States, at least hundreds. The CIA documents many of them.

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I think it was three things. First, his charisma and his sense of justice convinced even his executioners. Above all, he was the leader of the Cuban people, he is the maximum leader of the Cuban people, and the people have always protected him. But he is also a third world leader. And in the countries that he visited where they organized the attempts, mostly organized by the CIA, these same populations protected him.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of President Obama?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] President Obama represents an imperialist government and policy. So if you were to say to me, “Do you prefer him? Would you like him as a president?” I would say I would prefer a president who responds to the interests of the American people, who protects the poor from the arbitrary actions of the rich, and that respects international law. I have a very personal impression that Obama is a person who tries to be just. But while occupying the position of the presidency of the United States, it is very difficult to be just. However, I am a person who always likes to think positively, and I would like to believe that Obama in a second term will be a better human being and a better president.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned issues of poverty and equality. What is your assessment of the Occupy movement in the United States?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] It’s very interesting to me how the American population has found new languages and forms of struggle, a new language of struggle to fight for their social demands. And they do it peacefully and with deep reasoning. I don’t think they are against the government. They are against the policies that violate their rights. And I feel admiration for the courage of these people.

AMY GOODMAN: What would you like to see most change about the United States?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I want the Cuban Five to go back to Cuba and for Alan Gross to go home. I want an end to the financial, commercial and economic blockade that violates the human rights of the Cuban people, and the normalization of relations between both countries.

AMY GOODMAN: And what would you like to see most change about Cuba?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] In Cuba, I want to see the socialist system strengthened with mechanisms that are always more participatory and democratic, and that the sovereignty of Cuba always be respected.

AMY GOODMAN: Mariela Castro, daughter of the Cuban president, Raúl Castro. She is the most prominent champion of gay, lesbian and transgender rights in Cuba. She called on the United States to release the five Cubans imprisoned here in the U.S. They were spying on anti-Cuban militants in the U.S. In exchange, she says, Cuba should release Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen jailed in Cuba.

In song and struggle, Barbara Dane a singular voice

In ACLU, Arts, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Poetry, Politics, US on June 5, 2012 at 11:25 am



By James Reed

Originally published in the Boston Globe 

OAKLAND, Calif. — Barbara Dane has lived a life full of glowing superlatives. The noted jazz critic Leonard Feather famously branded her “Bessie Smith in stereo.” Ebony magazine, in its first-ever feature on a white woman, way back in 1959, called Dane “startlingly blonde,” a “pale-faced young lady’’ who could help keep the blues tradition alive.

But her most enduring title is one she doesn’t deserve. At 85, Barbara Dane is one of the true unsung heroes of American music, a singer and activist who is often relegated to footnotes in the history books.

Blessed with a rich, resonant voice, she had little use for categories when she started singing professionally in the 1950s, a distinction that would prove a marketing nightmare. She had a jazz musician’s sense of rhythm, a blues singer’s deep investment in the material, and a folk stylist’s attention to authenticity. And she sang all of that music with equal ease.

“I never gave it a thought or considered any walls between any of my work,” Dane says a few weeks ago in a candid, four-hour interview at her home here. “For me it meant nothing to change from one thing to another depending on who showed up and what the musicians knew how to play.”

Barbara Dane, a singer in many genres with admirers from Bonnie Raitt to Jackson Browne to fellow activist Jane Fonda, turned 85 this year.

The night before, Dane had celebrated her birthday with a rare performance at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in nearby Berkeley. At three hours, the concert simply skimmed the surface of Dane’s vast reach as a chameleonic singer.

Even the show’s opening video montage struggled to keep pace with Dane’s detours into various genres, crudely cutting from a folk ballad to joyous gospel to swinging jazz. Photos captured Dane through the years, blossoming from a young woman with pin-up good looks to a sleek jazz chanteuse holding her own with the likes of Muddy Waters through the political battles she waged in the 1970s singing wherever she was needed.

You cannot separate Dane from her liberal politics, which was apparent even before she sang a note at the Freight & Salvage. As a stagehand adjusted her microphone, she explained she was “centering” Dane. “Centering me? Moi?” Dane said in mock horror. The crowd, of mostly older fans, laughed knowingly.

Carolyn Mugar, the executive director of Farm Aid, the nonprofit organization headquartered in Cambridge, was at the show. Mugar has been a close friend since meeting Dane in the late ’60s through the antiwar movement. She has admired how Dane has sustained a long history of integrity both personal and artistic.

Barbara Dane with her son, musician Pablo Menéndez

“For me, her legacy is as someone who put her art in the practice of social change,” Mugar says. “Certainly people have gone on to do that. I think Barbara holds a very important place and people should know more of what she has done so that they, too, can contribute to social change.”

If Dane never became a marquee artist, her influence at least has rippled well beyond her cult status. The door to her home office is lined with photos of Dane with her arms draped around her admirers, from Bonnie Raitt to Mavis Staples to Jackson Browne. (Raitt has said Dane was a model for her own career balancing art and activism).

Pete Seeger was an early champion, as was Louis Armstrong. In “My Life So Far,” her 2005 autobiography, longtime friend Jane Fonda called Dane “a warm, wise, and talented blues singer.”

Perched in the Oakland Hills, Dane’s modest house hints at a life of adventure. It spills over with artwork, CDs, recording equipment, vintage photos of Dane in her halcyon years. Harry Belafonte’s new memoir rests on a coffee table. On a bottom bookshelf lies Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles, Volume One,” in which Dylan makes passing reference to Dane.

On another shelf is a small black-and-white photo in a bare wooden frame. It’s Dane with Fidel Castro in the ’60s; she was the first US entertainer to perform in Cuba after Castro’s revolution, an association that, not surprisingly, would invite criticism.

The common line on Dane’s career is that she was her own worst enemy. She jumped from one label to the next, just like she did with genres. There were brushes with fame, but she resisted them. She was tapped to perform with Louis Armstrong on an overseas tour, but she claims the State Department yanked her from the lineup because of her politics.

She treats those events not as regrets, but milestones. She knew early on that she would speak her mind. She didn’t play nice. She didn’t curry favor with promoters or chase people who could — and wanted to — make her a star. When Albert Grossman, who shaped the careers of Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary, came calling, she decided he wasn’t a good fit for her.

Dane performed at the inaugural Newport Folk Festival in 1959, but she’s convinced her outspokenness got her banned from future appearances. When she openly questioned George Wein’s payment practices for musicians, according to Dane, the legendary impresario made sure she wasn’t booked at the various other festivals he produced, including the jazz ones in Newport and abroad.

“It was a call I made, so I’m not going to moan and groan,” she says. “I thought it had to be said.”

As such, she never made much of a dent in New England’s folk or jazz scenes. Dane doesn’t recall ever performing at Club 47, the fabled folk mecca in Cambridge that produced Joan Baez and Tom Rush in the early ’60s.

Dane eludes comparisons because she was virtually peerless in terms of her pursuits. She opened a blues club in the Bay Area called Sugar Hill. She and her third husband, Irwin Silber, the late founder and moral conscience of the folk-music periodical “Sing Out!,” started their own label in 1969. Paredon Records chronicled movements of social unrest across the world, such as Chilean musicians resisting dictator Augusto Pinochet. The Paredon collection remains in print ever since Dane and Silber donated it to Smithsonian Folkways.

Dane’s own albums, however, are harder to find. She at least sells most of them on CD through her website ( She doesn’t own the rights, so she pirated them. The orders aren’t that many, she says, but they come in from as far away as Australia and Germany.

Dane was a trailblazer who not only erased the line between race relations — she simply never saw it in the first place. She performed with African-American blues musicians such as the Chambers Brothers and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

She tells the story that changed her course at a young age. She must have been 7 or 8 when she worked in her father’s drugstore in Detroit. One day an African-American worker entered the store and Dane served him a Coca-Cola. Right as she was pouring it, her father emerged from the back, outraged that the man was in his establishment. He scolded his daughter that they could not serve him, that the other patrons would be appalled.“I knew right then that I took the other guy’s side,” she says. “Not only that, but I took some of the essence of that guy and his problem inside of me. A question of justice became a very serious matter for me as a child.”

It wasn’t long before, in her early teens, she was picketing a local restaurant that wouldn’t serve blacks and soon began singing at labor rallies. That, she says, is where she found her fearless voice, both literally and figuratively.

Bernice Johnson Reagon, the singer, composer, cultural scholar, and founder of the a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, witnessed Dane’s powerful performances first hand. (Dane also produced Reagon’s 1975 album, “Give Your Hands to Struggle,” for Dane’s Paredon label.) A particular show, decades ago in Washington, D.C., still resonates with Reagon.

“Barbara sang unaccompanied for two hours. There was no break, she did not fully narrate, and it was flawless,” Reagon says. “I was stunned. I asked her about it afterward, and she did not seem to be conscious of it. As I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything else like it.”

Dane’s commercial prospects stalled early on — what else do you expect from a woman who has an album called “I Hate the Capitalist System”? — but she had her own definition of success. She feels like she achieved it, too, a life spent helping the disenfranchised with the most basic of weapons: compassion, conviction, and her voice.

“I think you can go down every block in every city and find someone with a good voice,” says Dane, who is finally working on her memoirs. “But it’s a question of knowing what to do about it, knowing what you want to sing for. I learned early on what I wanted to do with my voice — and I’ve done it.”

Try today and get two weeks FREE.James Reed can be reached at

Family’s Right to Travel

In Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Immigration, Politics, Travel, US on June 4, 2012 at 2:36 pm

     …cruel and unjust punishment if ever there was any…





June 4, 2012

Contact:  Alvaro Fernandez

305 308-6079






Rivera amendment would only help break Cuban family ties

MIAMI- Almost 50 percent of family members who travel toCubaareU.S.residents who have yet to attain citizenship, according to figures released by executives of the travel toCubaindustry inMiami. As a result,the Cuban American Commission for Family Right (CACFR) has issued a warning that a new proposed amendment to the Cuban Adjustment Act, presented by U.S. Rep. David Rivera, would assure that these family ties are severely broken.

“In 2009, President Obama rightfully made family unity and the right of family members to travel a priority of hisCubapolicy,” said Alvaro F. Fernandez, CACFR president. Adding, “Rivera’s amendment would undo the president’s mandate, simply for electoral reasons.”

Rivera’s H.R. 2831 would amend Public Law 89-732 (Cuban Adjustment Act) and disallow Cubans who are not yetU.S.citizens to travel toCuba. It plainly states: “An alien shall be ineligible for adjustment of status under this section if the alien returns toCubaafter admission or parole into theUnited States.”

Translation: If you travel to Cuba, for whatever the reason before becoming a U.S. citizen, when you return you will be present in the country illegally.

Howard Simon, executive director of theFloridachapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, warned in an El Nuevo Herald article, “Many persons might be deported unjustly” if the Rivera amendment is approved. In the same article, he emphatically stated: “This is nothing more than a cruelty in the name of ideological isolation ofCubaand an unnecessary restriction on the freedom to travel.”

Silvia Wilhelm, CACFR executive director, said, “We will fight this cruelty proposed by Rivera. South Floridians and persons from around theU.S.are tired of Rivera’s anti-family, electoral antics.”

There are nearly two million Cubans in theUnited States. Most reside inFlorida. Industry figures indicate that almost 400,000 travelled last year toCuba– the great majority to visit and help family members on the island.

The Cuban American Commission for Family Rights was created in 2004 to fight all attacks against the Cuban family. Since then the Commission has been critical of negative actions imposed by both theU.S.government and the Cuban government.




Mariela Castro and Rea Carey in Conversation

In Blockade, CENESEX, Cuba, Cuba/US, Education, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Latin America, LGBT, US on May 14, 2012 at 2:02 pm

LGBT Rights in Cuba, the United States and Beyond

In 2010 the Cuban government began providing sex reassignment surgery free of charge as part of their universal healthcare. This was the result of several years of work by the Cuban National Center for Sex Education under the leadership of Mariela Castro Espín, niece of Fidel Castro and daughter of current Cuban president Raúl Castro. The current developments in LGBT rights in Cuba are remarkable given the discrimination suffered by gays, lesbians, and transgender people in Cuba in the 20th century, as well as comparison with current LGBT movements in the U.S. and abroad.
Please join us on Tuesday May 29th at 7pm in the Trustees Room of the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building as Mariela Castro Espín and Rea Carey, Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, discuss the current international context of LGBT rights, including issues of sexual identity and orientation in contemporary Cuba.
 Mariela Castro Espín is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX). She was President of the Cuban Society for the Multidisciplinary Study of Sexuality (SOCUMES) from     2000 to 2010. She is president of the Cuban Multidisciplinary Centre for the Study of Sexuality, president of the National Commission for Treatment of Disturbances of Gender Identity, member of the  Direct Action Group for Preventing, Confronting, and Combatting AIDS, and an executive member of the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS). She is also the director of the journal Sexología y  Sociedad, a magazine of Sexology edited by her own National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX). She is the author of 9 books, published in Cuba and abroad, among them Transexuality in Cuba (Havana, CENESEX Publishing House, 2008). In 2009 she was awarded with the Public Service Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS), and in 2012 she received the Eureka Award for Academic Excellence, given by the World Council of University Academy (COMAU). She is married with 3 children.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is one of the most prominent leaders in the U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights movement. Carey, who came to the Task Force in 2004 as deputy executive director, has served as executive director since 2008.  Through her leadership, Carey has advanced a vision of fairness and justice for LGBT people and their families that is broad, inclusive and unabashedly progressive. Prior to her work with the Task Force, Carey worked extensively in HIV/AIDS prevention and in the LGBT community as one of the co-founders of Gay Men and Lesbians Opposing Violence and the founding executive director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition. She has also served as an advisor to major donors and foundations, and has served on the advisory boards for such wide-ranging publications as Teen People magazine and the Georgetown University Journal of Gender and the Law. She serves on the Advisory Board of the LGBTQ Policy Journal, of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government

“Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone” (John 8:2-11 KJV)

In Asamblea Nacional/National Assembly, CENESEX, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Cuban Americans, Human Rights/Derechos Humanos, Politics on February 27, 2012 at 11:46 am


Margarita Alarcón Perea

Famous words one might say. They are also words that although often pronounced out of context, since not always are we referring to a woman committing adultery, have the incredible added plus that they may be applied to practically every scenario in modern life.

I am not a religious person but I do subscribe to much of what is contained in the Bible. I also agree with almost everything that was spoken – or said to have been spoken lest my atheist friends feel betrayed – by Jesus Christ. After all He was the first true revolutionary of modern times.

I heard this phrase once again today during the answers to questions by Professor Salim Lamrani to Dr Eusebio Leal, the head of the restoration project of Old Havana in Cuba’s capitol. Professor Lamrani was asking Leal about Cuba’s human rights record.  Leal, a catholic himself, began his answer with the phrase.  He continued with another phrase often seen on billboards in Havana and all across the country, “of the thousands of children in world living on the streets, not one of them is Cuban.” This phrase is not Biblical, it is actually a sentence used by UNICEF to explain the situation on the island regarding the healthcare, education and general well being of Cuban children. The head of the UNICEF offices here in Havana repeats the same sentence in every interview he gives whether it be about human rights or not.

Every single country in the world violates the Human Rights Charter in one way or another, every single person on the planet has at one given moment of their lives “violated” the rights of another person, whether it be a co-worker, an employee, a parent a sibling a neighbor, a passerby or even ones own children. In all honesty, is it not a violation of ones own child’s rights at the age of seven to force upon them the terrible act of eating peas?

The European Union has chastised the government of Cuba for violating the Human Rights of its citizens because as they say, there is no free press. I guess that makes sense when you look at Rupert Murdochs track record. The government of the United States will repeatedly state that it will not establish normal relations with the government of Cuba until the island abides by US standards regarding Human Rights. Also a logical point, given the island has complete universal health care and education and a much lower per capita percentage rate of its prison population and has never needed affirmative action in order to sustain a rational level of blacks and women in the work force or Universities.

Am I being too ironic? Let’s see who throws the first stone…