We are in Cuba. More specifically, 14 members of Witness Against Torture are in the Department of Guantanamo, at the Mirador overlooking the U.S. Naval Base. We are being hosted by the staff of La Gobernadora restaurant and lounge. From the lookout, we can see the U.S. base that has occupied more than 100 square kilometers of Cuban land for more than a century. We can orient ourselves toward the camps where the Abd and Mohammed and their brethren are being held. We are camping. We are praying. We are acting. We are transforming a random international tourist spot — one more site to click photos, drink a beer, and move on from before heading to the beaches — into a place to honor and connect and extend ourselves toward the men our nation has demonized and then forgotten.
Recently, several human rights groups noted that the U.S. State Department has upgraded the status of some countries, notably Malaysia and Cuba, regarding human trafficking in order to improve diplomatic relations with those countries. Human trafficking, which is modern day slavery, is the illegal buying and selling of people, typically for forced labor or forced prostitution.
As a human rights worker, I know it is vitally important to tell the truth about human rights and to not falsify official reports about human rights in order to achieve diplomatic goals.
Human rights workers are rarely “purists.” They fight a lonely battle, often knowing there is little they can do in the offending country and knowing that “good” countries such as the US often will choose to elevate diplomatic goals over human rights goals. That is a fact of life. But when we make such choices, we must do so knowingly, with our eyes open, and not falsify reports or documents in order to sanitize our decisions.
Our official reports must have credibility. The whole point of preparing Trafficking In Persons (TIP) reports — or, for that matter, any human rights reports — is to provide a solid basis for analyzing the problem and identifying the countries involved. Once the U.S. is known to “cook the books” on the TIP reports, it loses its moral authority.
The Vatican on June 30 released details of Pope Francis’ itinerary for his Sept. 22-27 U.S. visit, his first, and it shows how this “pope of the people” wants to avoid becoming a prisoner of the East Coast “power corridor” during his five days in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia.
For example, organizers have added visits to a Catholic Charities food program in downtown Washington, a Catholic school in Harlem that serves largely Latino immigrant children, and a prison in Philadelphia to meet with inmates and some of their families.
Pope Francis will visit Cuba before arriving in the United States in September, the Vatican said April 22.
Rev. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, confirmed the news to reporters in a statement made in Italian, Spanish, and English.
“I am able to confirm that the Holy Father Francis, having received and accepted the invitation from the civil authorities and bishops of Cuba, has decided to pay a visit to the island before his arrival in the United States for the trip announced some time ago,” Lombardi said.
The pope is scheduled to visit Washington, New York City, and Philadelphia starting around Sept. 23.
Francis would be the third pope to visit Cuba, after St. John Paul II in 1998 and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2012.
Alan Gross, the Jewish international aid worker held on alleged spy charges in Cuba for five years, was freed on Dec. 17 — what some are calling a Hanukkah miracle on the first day of the holiday that celebrates religious freedom.
Gross, 65, of Maryland, has always claimed that he only went to Cuba to bring communications equipment to the small Jewish community left in Havana. However, the Castro government said he was part of a spy network attempting to set up a secret network for Cuban Jews. Gross was serving a 15-year sentence.
President Obama chose the Dec. 17 release as a springboard to announce a massive historic “normalization” of U.S.-Cuba relations. Meantime, in Cuba, President Raul Castro, who held a press conference in Havana at noon, was expected to release 53 Cuban political prisoners.
Obama particularly credited the “moral example of Pope Francis,” who actively encouraged Gross’ release. Francis, who held private meetings at the Vatican to secure the deal, praised the move, sending “his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”
JFK's assasination provides us with lessons about the dangers of secret wars and unaccountable power.