EspañolA retired Venezuelan general, wanted by Caracas for his involvement in 2014’s anti-government protests, has joined a hunger strike led by jailed opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Daniel Ceballos from the UN headquarters in New York.
Antonio Rivero announced his protest on Thursday, aiming to show solidarity with the political prisoners, and demand that the UN take strong measures to defend human rights in Venezuela.
Rivero himself faces similar accusations to those of Ceballos and López, and flew to the United States after an arrest warrant was issued in 2014. He already spent time behind bars in 2013 for allegedly “inciting hatred” and “conspiracy” following that year’s closely-contested presidential elections.
— Antonio J Rivero G (@antonioriverog) June 11, 2015
“I’m joining my fellow fighters @JosmirGutierrez and @e_bavaresco, who yesterday joined here the protest started by @daniel_ceballos and @leopoldolopez in Venezuela.”
While a UN high-ranking official received Rivero and two fellow activists on Wednesday, the former general told press he won’t lift his protest until the multilateral body issues an official response.
Rivero’s fast brings the number of hunger strikers to 75, including five jailed opposition politicians, five elected officials, and 63 young people.
Ceballos, the former mayor of the industrial city of San Cristóbal, announced his hunger strike on May 23, followed by López two days later. Jailed politicians Raúl Emilio Baduel and Alexander Tirado have each been forgoing food for the last 16 days.
The protesters are demanding that the Venezuelan government set a date for this year’s legislative elections, and invite international monitors to observe them. They also call on the government to release all jailed opposition activists, and to end the persecution of dissidents.
On Wednesday, Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, lawyer to Ceballos and López, told the press that they are open to ending the protest if the government releases all other political prisoners.
“If the other political prisoners are released, but not them, they may put an end to the hunger strike,” he said.
The proposition seems intuitively reasonable: US tourists will help bring democracy to Cuba. But, it is also demonstrably false. The idea that US tourists, innately imbued with democratic values and norms, will proudly reflect and share those values while traveling abroad is an authentic premise. Thus, we view them as ambassadors for democracy, and a powerful force in communicating the virtues of democratic governance. And whereas this may indeed be the case, it does not follow with syllogistic certainty that such ambassadorship can bring about the empowerment of the citizenry in a totalitarian regime. In the case of Cuba, for decades 2 million tourists from Canada, Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere have traveled yearly to the island with no impact whatsoever on the Cuban regime. The more empirically valid argument is that expenditures by tourists add to the longevity of the regime, since the monies flow into enterprises controlled by the Cuban military. Moreover, tourist dollars allow the regime to avoid meaningful economic and political reforms. In any case, international tourism has not brought about political reforms in Cuba, or in the remaining universe of totalitarian regimes. For example, China and Vietnam welcome 130 million and 8 million tourists respectively each year with no impact on their form of government. Advocates of tourism as a means to democratic governance counter argue that Cuba is different, and suggest that it is not the total number of visitors that counts, but specifically US tourism. Yet, the logic behind this chauvinistic view of US tourists as the only effective couriers of democratic values is never explained. It is only offered that they, by some vague cultural and historic affinity, are better endowed to convey the values of democratic governance to the Cuban people. But if such cultural and historical kinship does exist, it applies much more to Spanish-speaking tourists from Latin America and Spain. In fact, US tourists have only limited contact with the Cuban population. Most tourist resorts are in isolated areas, controlled by the security apparatus, and off limits to the average Cuban. Most also encounter a language barrier, and it is not clear that they consider their vacation time as an opportunity to subvert the Cuban regime. Most likely, US Americans, like most tourists, prefer to relax with mojitos in the beautiful beaches of Cuba. In the case of cruise-ship tourism, passengers will disembark for a few hours to purchase rum and cigars, and return to the ship. Again, it is not clear how this helps to usher in democratic governance, unless the argument relies on some mysterious osmotic process. Nonetheless, rather than rejecting the “American tourists” argument only on its lack of logical merits, I looked for statistical proxies to test the hypothesis. US tourists represent only 1.6 percent of inbound tourism in China. In Cuba, tourists from the United States account for 3.3 percent of total tourism. In other words, Cuba’s tourism is twice as US intensive as China’s. Neither country has engaged in political reforms, so it is only fair to ask: what percentage of tourists must be from the United States to validate the “US tourists will bring democracy” thesis? Answer: unknown. Another revealing comparison is to relate the number of US tourists to the population of the host countries. China, with a population of 1.3 billion, receives 2 million US tourists each year. Cuba, with a population of 11.2 million, welcomes 90,000. Thus, on a per capita basis, Cuba welcomes a US visitor for every 124 Cubans, while China receives a US tourist for every 650 Chinese citizens. In theory, at least, this means that the per capita concentration of US tourists in Cuba is already five times greater than that in China. Yet no democratic reforms are visible in either country. Again, it is fair to ask: how many US tourists per capita are required to substantiate the “US tourists will bring democracy” theory? Answer: unknown. The point of all this is simply to show that the “US tourists will help bring democracy to Cuba” working proposition of the administration’s new US-Cuba policy fails to pass the most basic tests of logical coherence. We deserve more critical and rigorous thinking from our policymakers. This article first appeared in the Miami Herald.