Friday, July 5, 2013

South Africa and Cuba: A Similar Struggle, A Drastically Different Response

By: Rudy Mayor from Fox News Latino

The sudden decline in health of former South African president and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela has prompted many around the world to reminisce on his legacy and the historical significance of his movement. While serving harsh prison sentences, often in solitary confinement, Mandela took part in hunger strikes and used every opportunity to draw global attention and solidarity for the anti-apartheid cause. 

While speaking to a crowd of South African University students last week, President Barack Obama also recalled Mandela’s struggle and his personal frustration with how little the United States was doing to help those freedom fighters an ocean away.

Against all odds, Mandela’s efforts worked. The international community imposed sweeping economic sanctions on South Africa, isolating the country and making it increasingly difficult for the government to fund its oppressive tactics. The United Nations condemned the government’s policies and urged member states to sever all political and economic ties to the country. The Catholic Church voiced strong opposition to apartheid, culminating in an impassioned speech at the International Court of Justice and a symbolic pilgrimage to bordering African states by Pope John Paul II.

Mandela’s efforts to build international solidarity against his oppressors have been emulated by others similarly oppressed. In our own hemisphere, Cuban political prisoners engage in hunger strikes, take beatings, and struggle to survive in the country’s dilapidated prisons. Yet, many of the same countries that once took a stand against Mandela’s oppressors are unwilling to take a similar stand against Castro. 

Cuba’s oppressors, they think, ought to be “confronted” by cutting deals with their state-run agencies to build new tourist destinations and allowing more of their citizens to visit the island. Meanwhile, Cuban prisoners who look up to Mandela rot in prisons as the international community does more to fund their government’s repression rather than bankrupt it. 
Even some interest groups in the U.S. have made strong but unsuccessful efforts to unilaterally lift sanctions and thus pretend like there is nothing wrong in Cuba. They claim sanctions hurt Cubans more than help them.

But this is not true. Economic sanctions won’t hurt Cubans more than unceasing communist repression will, just like sanctions did not hurt blacks more than apartheid did. Unfortunately, Cuba has always had its sympathizers and subsidizers. To countries that have always had normal relations with Cuba, an unprovoked change of course might seem too sudden or too abrupt of a change in policy. 

However unlikely it is that these countries will impose sanctions on Cuba overnight, the U.S. must be open to the idea of pushing internationally backed sanctions when the time is right. In today’s world, timing is everything. This is especially so because the national, and even international, conversation is driven by impulsive social media. 
International support for the Cuban people will have to come at some point and the most effective day will probably be when it appears that Cuba has reached an important fork in the road between new freedom or more of the same repression.

Until then, we must live with the fact that Cubans continue to look up to Mandela and continue to sacrifice everything with little international support. They continue seeking the help of those who once helped South Africa to rid itself of its own heavy chains, but these countries continue to turn a deaf ear. 
No one will know exactly why the world was able to unite behind Mandela but continued to do so little for dissident leaders like Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet or Berta Soler. However, the U.S. should not let the fact that few countries have stood resiliently against Castro persuade them to change course now. 

Just as we look back and reminisce at the strength of Mandela and the support we gave his movement, the U.S. will be able to look back at how they always supported the Cuban people over its oppressors – and that too is worth reminiscing about.

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Marco Rubio's Win-Win Immigration Situation


Momentum on comprehensive immigration reform has withered away - and we can feel it. What was once an optimistic group of eight Senators who seemed to embody the only qualities of productivity in all of government, is now a frequently maligned faction that dared to break the cycle of dysfunctional governance in Washington. There is no doubt that the Gang of Eight’s influence is in decline; the group is a vestige of its former self.

Yet, the same Senator who was anointed by his peers as the leader of the Gang of Eight and the entire immigration reform movement now stands as the lone victor in this whole ordeal regardless of what happens. Senator Marco Rubio’s efforts have been a full-time effort of part-politics / part-governing. Rubio was able to remain an insider and indispensible piece of the immigration reform process, while exhibiting a willingness to forcefully shape the conversation and the content of the bill. He did all this based on the conservative cues he received from keeping his finger on the GOP pulse – he did it masterfully.

Those who sincerely believe that immigration reform is necessary – as I do - will certainly feel the biggest blow if the bill fails. Its failure will not only mean that millions of persons here illegally will continue to live and work in the shadows, but it will embody what is now the new norm in governance. Our immigration system might be broken, but we can’t fix it with a government that is equally broken.

Pass or Fail – Rubio is the big winner in all of this. His good faith effort in trying to resolve the immigration ordeal has been influenced, in part, by his understanding that besides President Obama (who would actually be signing the bill) he would be the highest ranking politician to take credit for the feat. He could go to the American people in 2016 with a significant legislative accomplishment under his belt. He could promise the American people an Administration that embodies the principles of cooperation and results reminiscent of his time as leader of the Gang of Eight. He could say that Obama talked about it – he talked the talk and walked the walk.

Of course, the bigger win for Rubio (and Republicans) would be if immigration reform failed in 2013, only to be reconsidered in 2017. Promises of a renewed effort for comprehensive immigration reform would easily be believed since Rubio got us so close as a junior Senator. If Rubio promised that it would be the first thing on his agenda as President, there is no doubt that he could swing the increasingly Hispanic swing-states red. Not only would it be a win for Rubio, it would be a win for the Republican Party.

No one can argue that the GOP has had a difficult time reaching out to specific ethnic groups. Concededly, the GOP has almost always focused on a broad principled message rather than targeting specific ethnic factions with community specific promises. The reality is that ethnic politics in America is on the rise and the fact that the GOP has been so slow in reacting to this trend might lead to many more losing elections. The GOP has taken the necessary first step by recognizing the need to reach out to more ethnic groups. Identifying specific issues that can appeal to various groups, even various sub-groups within a larger Hispanic population, is the necessary next step. Forging ethnic alliances and loyalties are not entirely new for the GOP. Cuban-Americans vote in a loyal block for the GOP stemming back from Reagan’s forceful anti-communist message. Pro-Statehood Puerto Ricans are often associated with Republican Party members who have been more open to the idea than Democrats.

Spearheading a 2017 effort and signing comprehensive immigration reform as President could have a lasting effect on the image of the Republican Party for decades to come. The dual interest in immigration reform and preserving the party of Lincoln and Reagan will be on Rubio’s mind if immigration reform fails. At this point, Rubio has a choice to try his hardest at passing the bill or sitting back and watching it fail. Either way, in his eyes, his hard work was not for nothing. Failure of the bill today could mean a win for him and a watershed win for the GOP in less than four years. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What Boston Means

By: Senator Marco Rubio from National Review

Now that more than a decade has passed since September 11, 2001, for some, the events of that day appear increasingly distant. A new generation of Americans is coming of age that did not live through the horror of those attacks.

Until the Boston bombings, many of our citizens knew the effects of 9/11 only through the intrusive security requirements of air travel. If nothing else, recent events should remind us that we are a country at war, that radical Islamic jihadists are evil, and that America has a moral and security responsibility to lead the fight to defeat them. Unfortunately, we have a president who wants to declare the war over, the enemy defeated.

Time and again, he and his top officials have failed to characterize the threat for what it truly is. Senior administration officials have described the leadership of al-Qaeda as “a shadow of its former self” or as having been “decimated.” And to be sure, the current administration has achieved some very real counterterror successes.

But if we’re not even willing to characterize the war as a war, or the threat as a threat, how can we ensure that we will win this battle? If, instead, we want to see every act of terror in the United States as some isolated case, disconnected from a broader effort — as administration officials are now spinning Boston — we’re doing a disservice to the American people.

President Obama is failing to explain to the American people the consequences of this conflict, why it is important, what the stakes are, and who our enemy actually is.

Across the globe, we’ve seen the results of his approach: an America disengaged, failing to lead, unwilling to tackle tough challenges, while others, who often do not share our values, fill the void. We’ve gone from being a country with a decades-long record of shaping world events, the guarantor of peace and stability, to being, in many cases, a mere bystander to world events, lagging behind others.

In reaction to the approach of the current administration, some argue that we should hunker down here at home. They believe that the government has overreached on national security — that more than a decade after 9/11, we need to focus more on restricting our government than on fighting those who want to kill us and disrupt our way of life.

We debated many of these issues last year in the Senate during the discussion about indefinite detention as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The bombing in Boston shows the misguided nature of this approach and should serve as a reminder that the homeland can unfortunately become part of the battlefield.

We should of course ask questions of our law-enforcement and intelligence agencies about who knew what and when, but we should keep in mind that Boston shows that limiting government’s authorities, retreating from the world, and isolating ourselves will not keep us safe.

There are areas in our immigration system that need to be reviewed. We must ensure that the systems at the Department of Homeland Security, and its many agencies within, that we created to protect the American people have not created new stovepipes that prevent the sharing of information. We must make sure that in facing the threat of homegrown extremists, we are better able to understand and isolate the tipping point of radicalization that would lead someone to kill and maim his own neighbors. We need to find new ways to counter that ideology both at home and abroad, to support Muslim moderates and ensure that the ongoing transformation underway in the Arab world helps those who are seeking a more stable and prosperous future, not more chaos and instability.

The problems that plague parts of this world, from Pakistan to Yemen to Syria to Chechnya or Dagestan, are not of our making, but as recent events prove, they will continue to impact our own security. In our interconnected global world, these conflicts will eventually reach us in some way, even if it is only via an Islamist cleric preaching hate on YouTube who influences a young man living in the United States.

The question is whether we as a nation decide to give up our moral responsibility, and our own interest in seeking to confront this extremism head-on, because it is easier to stand by and do nothing. As we’ve seen far too often over the last four years, doing nothing means ceding leadership to others who are unlikely to share our interests and values and are often unable to contain the problem.

Neither option is acceptable, and neither approach will keep Americans safe. That should be the ultimate lesson of the terrible events in Boston.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Thank You, Barney Frank

From our friends at Capitol Hill Cubans

Last night, the Equality Forum honored Cuban dictator's daughter, Mariela Castro, for her work with LGBTs.

In the same ceremony, it honored former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA).
Fortunately, former Rep. Frank minced no words regarding the Castro family's dictatorship.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Speaking before the Equality Forum's dinner Saturday night, former Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.), who was also honored by the group, said that he applauded Mariela Castro for her work to expand LGBT civil rights, but that he would "differ with her very sharply" if she embraced the political repression of her father and uncle, whom he said were "among the great betrayers of liberalism and human rights."

"I'm glad that they're lessening the repression of gay and lesbian people, but no, I certainly don't think that people should say, 'OK, well, that's all you have to do,'" he said.

Sadly, Congressman Frank, Mariela not only espouses -- but publicly defends -- her family's political repression.

She even refers to dissidents as "despicable parasites."

Thus, it's hard to understand why the State Department would reward her with a U.S. visa -- an insult to all those whom her family represses.

The Time for Immigration Reform is Now


In short time, the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform bill will be reviewed by the Senate after many months of delicate negotiation and an exhausting media tour by the bill’s proponents. If the media blitz and the events of Boston have taught us anything it is this: we cannot wait another year for immigration reform.

The arguments already conjured up against the bill are falling flat. The word amnesty is thrown around as if the bill doesn’t include strong provisions requiring the payment of multiple fines and back taxes for circumventing the legal immigration process. It requires individuals who came to the U.S. illegally to get to the back of the line and requires them to learn English. The bill puts the toughest border enforcement mechanisms in the history of the U.S. and fines businesses that hires illegal immigrants over American residents and citizens. What is the alternative?

Jail time is not feasible and would not solve the legal status problem once immigrants are released. Mass deportations are also not reasonable due to the hefty price tag on such a massive operation. Not to mention, such a wide-scale operation strikes me as uncompassionate and reminiscent of witch-hunts. Are we really going to gather people up, place them in temporary holding facilities that don’t presently exist, or at over-capacity prisons, waiting just to be kicked out? Are we really going to maintain all these people in jail, entire families, until we have the buses or airplanes necessary to take them to their country of origin? Are we to drop millions of people on the U.S.-Mexico border and expect them to run back to their country of origin? A country of origin which, as the Boston Marathon attack reminded us, includes European countries, Russia, and Kazakstan? Imagine the national security implications that this and other countries would have by forced deportations of an estimated 12 million people. This operation would be of a global scale since, contrary to a misguided belief, not all 12 million illegal immigrants are from Mexico. Surely, this option would be an unnecessary stain in American history and doing nothing is equally dangerous as a de facto amnesty. 

Opponents also have issues with the triggering mechanisms for border security, arguing that they are too subjective and subject to Secretary Napolitano’s politically motivated discretion. I agree that Napolitano paints a rosy picture of the border and our national security. Border security is a long-term process that started with 9/11 under Bush and continues under Obama. It is sad - but true - that the border has never been more secure despite there still being huge holes that need covering.

Not every foot of the border needs a physical fence, however, since heat detecting sensors and drones can be used to capture illegal entrants miles within our territory. We have learned that physical borders won't keep people out who have the will and find a way to get to the greatest nation on earth. The key is catching them before they do any harm or disappear – and we know we have the capability if we commit the resources to it. This bill significantly increases our capacity to capture illegal entrants and provides specific funding that is dispersed as needs change. Without the bill, we can be sure that improvements in border security will be slow and ineffective. With the bill, we will see significant improvements that will keep our country safe. The benefits outweigh the burdens.

We also know that no pathway to citizenship, even one that is twenty years down the road for most persons here illegally, is a non-starter for Democrats and reason dictates it should be for Republicans as well. First, not all 12 million illegal immigrants will be eligible for a permanent residency status or citizenship; not all of them will choose this route and not all will qualify. Second, what is this GOP insecurity I sense about 12 million Democratic voters ready to be legalized? Are the members of this – my – party so insecure about the GOPs core beliefs that we somehow think our values are incompatible with minorities or newly arrived immigrants? 19th century political parties used to greet immigrants at the ports of New York ready to engage them and win them over. Is the GOP of today really going to put their hands up and refuse to engage these folks because they are new to this country? This is not a winning strategy.

When the bill is debated, we all expect a vocal opposition and few Amendments that offer adaptable alternatives. The fact that this bill is 800 pages long is also no reason for opposing it - can we get to the merits? This piece of legislation makes America safer and more economically competitive in the 21st century. The GOP establishment has already said that giving up and not engaging minorities is not an option if this party is going to be a viable one in national elections. Doing nothing with respect to immigration is also not an option anymore. Ronald Reagan and the Republicans of the 80s were unable to foresee the consequences of granting amnesty. But this, my friends is no amnesty. The conservative approach to immigration reform is here and it needs our support. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Irony of Mariela Castro's Visit to the United States


This week, the U.S. State Department reversed its initial rejection of Mariela Castro’s visa to travel to the United States. The purpose of the trip for Mariela, who is also Cuban dictator Raul Castro’s daughter, is to attend an LGBT conference where she is scheduled to receive an award for her work with the gay community in Cuba. All that is seemingly benign, until of course, you get to thinking why this Irony-Tour is allowed in the first place.   

Perhaps the height of the Irony-Tour was Ms. Castro’s visit to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. There she paid lip-service to the significance of freedom and civil rights, not only to the United States, but to the international community as well. Did she mean Cuba, too? While I don’t mean to undermine whatever work she has done in Cuba to help the condition of gays in her country – what’s the point of this visit?

If Cubans did not have Mariela Castro as an advocate for gays, what would they have? They certainly would not have the democratic avenues that exist in the United States for gays to express their political views and wield their political power. Cuban gays have no independent judiciary to challenge actions like Proposition 8 in independent Cuban courts. Also, Cuban gays have no unfettered and unregulated civil society by which to persuade their national leaders and fellow Cubans to support whatever measures the gay community considers important.  

Even if Mariela were successful in achieving equality for gay Cubans on the same level as non-gay Cubans, what is the playing field we are working with? Truth is, even if gay Cubans were to achieve Mariela’s equality – all Cubans are oppressed. She should stop acting like she’s doing gay Cubans a favor. Do us all a favor Mariela, go back to Cuba and call for real equality and freedom.  

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Re-Launch of "The Politics of Freedom" Blog


As times change, so do priorities. Time that was once used for writing political opinion pieces on this very blog became better spent on consuming new knowledge. Law school is mechanical and tedious – and if you do it the right way – you don’t have a lot time for the creative writing process that is blogging. But, as a human being who like other human beings is never quite complacent doing one thing – the full-time “thinking like a lawyer” method of learning has left a void and longing for the creative writing process de nuevo. The use of creativity, like public policy arguments, is often subordinated in the lawyer’s hierarchical list of binding and persuasive sources. Lawyers grasp, instinctually, for their complicated statutory arguments. Yet, it is on the public policy side that arguments are often won.

This is why the re-launch of my blog is so important to me. First, writing creatively on politics is an outlet to an otherwise mechanical way of legal thinking that all lawyers are trained in. This blog is a way to escape the “this is the way things are” mentality and use the right side of my brain more often to argue: “this is the way things should be.” Secondly, writing creatively on issues that matter to me, my community, and my country is a way to offer opinion pieces to persuade those who are undecided and to reassure those who believe as I do. If you disagree with me, let it serve you well by reflecting on it and contributing to the ongoing dialogue. Opinions don’t change over night, but exposure to equally valid but opposing arguments on a particular issue might lead to the moderation of views or a long-term transformation. Who knows, I might disagree with me in 20 years time.

We know this to be true because people change with the times. If human beings are the sums of their experiences and if we let these outside experiences affect us, we see that we are not the same people we were a few years ago. I can't help but to look back at my writing of two or three years ago and cringe at the fact that I had so much to say but had so little skill to communicate it. Therefore, let my blog pieces serve as a snapshot of my views of the year or maybe even the day they were posted. My political views and blog posts, however, are not written impulsively (an example of impulse politics is the U.S. Congress, as well as impulse governance (see: sequester, furloughs)). At the foundation of my thinking and my views is an unshakable appreciation for what the United States stands for. Taking a principled stance is always better than political expediency. Sometimes the principled thing to do is to compromise, but never at the expense of what is right and what is truth. Some issues go to your core, like the issue of democracy in Cuba, and it is better to always stand for what you know in your heart is right.