Category Archives: Cuban Dissidents

Cuban Dissident Artist ‘El Sexto’ Released from Maximum Security Prison

ArtnetNews

He had been held for two months without charge.

Cuban dissident artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, aka El Sexto, was released over the weekend from the maximum security prison outside Havana, where he had been held for nearly two months.

The artist and activist had been held at El Combinado del Este, a maximum security prison used for hardened criminals as well as Cubans whose political views oppose the state. This was his third arrest since December 2014, first in relation to an artwork likening Raul and Fidel Castro to pigs, and again on the eve of a visit by former President Barack Obama to Cuba.

On November 26, 2016, El Sexto was violently taken from his home in Havana by police, who gave no reason for his arrest. He was scheduled to leave Cuba for Art Basel in Miami, where he had planned exhibitions and performances.

Cuban authorities did not give a reason for his release on Saturday, January 21, either; however, Pollock Fine Art London, a gallery that represents El Sexto, noted in a statement that it coincided with a recent communication sent to the Cuban government from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, regarding their reviewing of a petition to declare the artist’s incarceration illegal according to international law.

More than 13,700 people signed an online petition on Change.org demanding El Sexto’s immediate release. “Short-term arbitrary arrests remain a common tactic to restrict freedom of expression in Cuba,” read the petition’s explanatory text.

Amnesty International also called for urgent action, calling the artist a “prisoner of conscience.”

After his release, El Sexto thanked the petitioners and Amnesty International, as well as other human rights organizations, activists, artists, and writers who supported him. He also expressed his gratitude to the international attorneys who fought for him: Centa B. Rek Chatjtur of the Human Rights Foundation, and Kimberley Motley, who was arrested in Havana on December 16 for attempting to publicize the artist’s unwarranted arrest and incarceration. He is currently at home with his family in Havana.

Prominent Cuban dissidents detained by state security agents

The Miami Herald

Cuban dissident Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet, recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, was taken into custody by police and state security agents Wednesday morning in Havana and briefly detained.

Miami-based Inspire America Foundation, a super PAC that supports pro-democracy leaders and policies in Cuba and the Americas, said Biscet, a former political prisoner, was picked up outside his Havana home by four police operatives and two state security agents and put into a patrol car.

By Wednesday afternoon, he was released with a warning about his activities, said Inspire America founder Marcell Felipe, who spoke with Biscet via telephone.

“While in custody he was told to give up his work and that he was getting old and that he was being watched and would go to prison if he continued,” said Felipe.

Three other dissidents — Eduardo Quintana Suárez, José Omar Lorenzo Pimienta, and Yoan Álvares — also were detained.

Inspire America said they had planned to meet in a Havana park to distribute a newsletter celebrating the 4th anniversary of the Emilia Project, a campaign to gather signatures on a document that asks for a new democratic and free parliament to be created to replace Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power and demands that a new constitution be drafted on the principles of democracy and freedom.

Biscet, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2007, is one of the directors of the Emilia Project and was arrested in 2002 as part of the “Black Spring” roundup of dissidents. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released in 2011.

The independent Cuban news service 14yMedio also reported that Karina Gálvez, an economist and member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia, was detained Wednesday morning and taken to state security headquarters in Pinar del Río. Her home was reportedly searched for nearly four hours.

During his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, said that since the Obama administration’s opening toward Cuba and the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Cuba hasn’t done enough to defend human rights.

Cuba dissident: Fake site duped me into ending hunger strike

farinas

Fox News

Guillermo “Coco” Farinas became one of Cuba’s best-known dissidents by starving himself — launching two dozen hunger strikes demanding government concessions on human rights.

He started his 25th strike in late July with the demand that President Raul Castro halt what Farinas called the worsening repression of dissidents since Cuba and the United States declared detente in December 2014.

As the strike entered its second month, the dissident’s backers claimed he was close to death. On Monday those worries evaporated. Farinas announced he was ending his protest because the European Parliament had just voted to link improved ties with Cuba and progress on human rights. Also on the table: naming Farinas a special parliamentary adviser on civil society on the island.

The only problem: Not a word of it was true.

The “Farinas Amendment” was the creation of a faked website that masqueraded as the blog of the European Parliament for nearly a week, issuing reports widely distributed by anti-Castro Spanish-language media including the U.S. government-funded Marti news network.

“It’s really weird,” said Kristof Kleemann, the chief of staff for German member of parliament Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, whom the bogus site described as the sponsor of the “Farinas Amendment.” ”Our people tell us that the website that published this article, that this website is a fake website.”

Farinas charged that the site was a dirty trick by the Cuban government aimed at fooling him into ending a protest that was drawing too much attention. There’s no public evidence of a tie to the Cuban government or, indeed, anyone else. Because it was hosted on WordPress, a widely used blogging platform, the page’s individual registration is impossible for the public to trace.

“Creating this page was an act of espionage,” Farinas said. “They were under pressure from the hunger strike and the possibility of my dying and they created a fake page so that I would stop.”

Farinas and his camp frequently speak directly with European diplomats based in Havana but did not check Monday’s report with them before declaring an end to the strike, according to Jorge Luis Artiles, a dissident from the central city of Santa Clara who has served as Farinas’ spokesman during much of the protest. Artiles said Farinas’ camp had learned of the report in a call from backers in Miami. He declined to provide further details.

The Cuban government did not respond to a request for comment, but it has long accused Farinas and fellow dissidents of being charlatans focused on winning support from anti-Castro exiles in South Florida. Hunger strikes have been the target of particular skepticism, with government backers accusing strikers of secretly eating and drinking away from the public eye.

“There’s no precedent for Cuban authorities publishing false information of this type or imitating established institutions as we see in this case,” said Iroel Sanchez, a Havana opinion columnist and blogger with close ties to the Cuban government. “Mr. Farinas himself has been a systematic source of false information about himself and his ‘activism’ for profit, inventing all sorts of myths.”

Artiles said Farinas had been on a total “hunger and thirst” strike at home but was given intravenous nutrition and hydration after he was rushed unconscious to the hospital five times during his strike.

Farinas said the discovery that the report was fake would not cause him to restart his protest.

“In a hunger strike, once you start to drink water again, going back would be madness,” he said.

Farinas’ strike came at a critical time for Cuba’s small, factionalized community of outspoken government opponents. Once a centerpiece of U.S. policy on Cuba, traditional dissidents have found themselves on the sidelines as the U.S. abandons its support for swift regime change in favor of gradual reform. On issues from economic ties to environmental cooperation, the Obama administration is talking directly, amicably and frequently with Castro’s government.

The fake webpage has been taken down, but at least one archived copy remains available. The page was loaded with genuine articles taken from the Spanish-language section of the European Parliament site, giving a casual or inattentive reader the impression that the page was well-established. The content that is still visible was added on Sept. 5 and Sept. 6 — suggesting the site may have been built in about 24 hours or less.

“It looks very professional, but then they make all sort of technical mistakes,” Kleemann said. “They cite a certain report in that article and that report is actually a report from the trade committee in the parliament on Jordan.”

The reports about the “Farinas Amendment” were shared on social media dozens of times directly from the fake WordPress site. The first share appears to have been on Artiles’ Facebook account.

The account appears to have been active throughout the strike, posting articles supporting Farinas and bitterly criticizing the Castro government.

Artiles told The Associated Press Tuesday evening that he had not been on Facebook for nearly two months. He said he only discovered in the last week that hackers had long been in control of his account, and he alleged that the government was responsible.

“They stole my page and it’s a fraud because it’s been 56 days since I’ve been online,” he said. “They’re publishing fake news.”

Do Cuban lives matter to Obama?

farinas

Sun Sentinel, by Guillermo Martinez

Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas has met with President Barack Obama at least twice. Together they discussed the lack of personal freedom in Cuba.

That was before President Obama went on a well-deserved golfing vacation while Fariñas was in the fourth week of a hunger strike in Cuba. By the time this column is printed, Obama will be visiting the destruction caused by the floods in Louisiana —and Fariñas may be dead.

In December 2014, Obama decided he wanted his legacy to show he had improved relations between Cuba and the United States. Since then, the United States has given many benefits to the Cuban government.

American tourists are traveling to Cuba in ever-growing numbers. Cubans escape the island and come to seek refuge in the United States, only to return to the island after a year and a day. Some go to see relatives while others go to enjoy a break from the tough life they have endured in the United States.

They all take money to Cuba. This money does not end up in the pockets of ordinary Cubans. All the money American tourists and Cubans who come and go freely to the island bring ends up in the hands of the Cuban Armed Forces – charged by the Castro regime with the responsibility of collecting and spending, as they see fit, all the dollars that flow to the island.

Since Obama opened the doors to more exchanges with Cuba, the Cuban government has repaid the American president by making life harder for all those on the island who dare oppose the regime.

Dissidents are beaten, repressed and jailed with increasing frequency.

Nobody knows precisely how many are beaten or jailed, but most international human rights organizations say the number has more than doubled in the nearly two years since Obama decided to improve relations with the Castro regime.

In Cuba, Fidel Castro turned 90 years old this past week, and his brother Raul rules in much the same ruthless manner as his brother. He has made it clear he will not respond to American acts of rapprochement with any acts of kindness or making things easier for the people of Cuba.

It is an uneven deal the one Obama and the younger Castro brother agreed to in 2014. In it, the Americans give and Cuba takes all it can while at the same time it increases internal repression.

That is the legacy of President Obama in Cuba.

To be precise, his legacy is best seen in the monthlong hunger strike by Fariñas. He has said his condition for ending his hunger strike is for the Cuban government to stop beating dissidents who peacefully demonstrate for human rights.

News from the 54-year-old Cuban comes from his mother, and is circulated on the internet by those who really care about him. News of his giving up the hunger strike or dying as a result of it will make it to the main news media. But for his day-to-day condition, there is little interest in the American media.

Obama, the first African-American president, is concerned about the lives of African-Americans killed in American cities. But he cares little for the life of that brave, black Cuban man who is willing to die so others on the island will not be repressed by the lack of interest from the White House in those who dare protest peacefully in Cuba.

Yes, in the United States and to President Obama, “Black Lives Matter” as long as they are American lives. He cares little for the life of a Black Cuban.

If Fariñas dies, that will be the true legacy of President Obama’s new Cuban policy.

‘People are complaining openly in Cuba and this has never happened before’

rodilesposter

The Guardian

Leading dissident Antonio Rodiles has been arrested more than 50 times this year, but he says he has moments of optimism about political change in Cuba

Two days before he was due to meet the president of the US, Antonio Rodiles was arrested by the Cuban police.

But this was nothing new – as a democracy activist in Cuba you get to know the police pretty well. Rodiles estimates that he has been arrested more than 50 times since the beginning of the year.

I met Rodiles in his house in Havana, shortly after the US president’s historic visit. He was eventually released and met with Obama, who spent two hours with prominent Cuban dissidents and anti-Castro civil society leaders. “It was a good meeting, but it doesn’t mean we will have a good result,” Rodiles says. And yet, despite plenty of negative experiences, the activist admits that these days, he has moments of optimism.

Rodiles, a native Cuban, has been openly critical of the Castro government since his return from the US in 2010. A qualified physicist, he spent 12 years away from Cuba until he turned to political activism, concerned and frustrated by the lack of civic liberties in his country.

His activism is mainly about reclaiming public space and intellectual freedom. Last year he launched #TodosMarchamos (we all march), an initiative to exercise the right to freedom of expression and take back the streets from the government – there’s a saying in Cuba “esta calle es de Fidel” (this street belongs to Fidel).

On a smaller scale, every Thursday Rodiles hosts meetings at his house – an organisation called Estado de SATS – an open space to present art exhibitions, independent films and debates. They are “a kind of therapy session for activists,” he says.

“There’s no space like this in Cuba. It’s so important to have these kinds of events. People can come here and speak openly without limits. They can say they hate Fidel or even, well, we haven’t had anyone say they like the Castros, but they could do that here,” he jokes.

And these meetings are poignant. Ex-political prisoners are given a microphone to share their thoughts on the future of Cuba and openly discuss their experiences of their restricted life. It seems to be a lifeline for those who think differently to the Cuban communist ideology; and it is perhaps now more important than ever to continue these discussions. The invitation to meet with Obama was a recognition of their work.

Continue reading ‘People are complaining openly in Cuba and this has never happened before’

Cuban dissident on hunger strike ‘ready to die’ to call attention to government abuse

farinas

FoxNewsLatino

On his third week of a hunger strike, Guillermo Fariñas, one of Cuba’s most prominent human rights activists, is refusing medical intervention as his health declines and says he is ready to die to call attention to the Cuban government’s abuse of dissidents.

In a telephone interview from his home in Cuba on Tuesday with Fox News Latino, Fariñas said he wants the Cuban government to stop engaging in physical assault of political dissidents.

Those who have visited Fariñas, as well as a doctor who was monitoring his condition, have told Fox News Latino and other news organizations that he suffered two fractured ribs and other injuries in July when he asked Cuban state police about the status of a detained dissident, Carlos Amel Oliva.

Fariñas, who has gone on more than 20 hunger strikes in protest of human rights violations in Cuba, immediately wrote a letter to Cuban President Raul Castro asking for an end to “abuse, terror, and violence by the repressive authorities of your government.” He decided to launch a hunger strike, and more than a dozen other human rights activists in Cuba have joined him.

Fariñas, 54, has been hospitalized twice in the last 10 days, according to the Cuban American National Foundation, an influential Miami-based lobby group that pushes for democratic reform in Cuba.

As his health has deteriorated and a weaker Fariñas spends more and more of his days sleeping, the recipient of several international human rights prizes has been visited by a representative of the U.S. Embassy in Havana and an envoy who stopped by on behalf of Pope Francis.

The Vatican envoy told Fariñas a few days ago that Pope Francis does not agree with holding a hunger strike, but respects his decision to do so.

Fariñas said he is too tired of the systemic abuses by the Castro regime and that he will sacrifice his life to get the Cuban government to take action, or the world to take human rights abuses in Cuba more seriously.

“I’m not asking them to stop detaining people, though they should stop making up bogus reasons and trumping up charges and refusing to admit that they detain people just for political reasons,” Fariñas said of what he is asking of the Cuban government. “I want them to stop beating up people who are merely protesting peacefully for freedom, for democratic reform. They also should never beat someone up when they are handcuffed or put in some other restraints.”

Fariñas, who met with President Barack Obama when he visited Havana in March, said the United States’ move to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba only has emboldened the Castro regime “by giving it validation.”

“The intentions by the president were good, I believe, but it has served to make them feel legitimized and more reckless about oppression,” Fariñas said. “If they had any good will, the Cuban government would have taken steps toward democratic reform and liberties for everyone, the Cuban citizenry and critics of the government. But instead, the regime is acting with impugnity.”

Fariñas wants the Obama administration to freeze diplomatic relations so long as the government continues to crack down on dissension.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said to Fox News Latino on condition of anonymity that it is keeping track of Fariñas’ health, and has contacted Cuban authorities about its concerns regarding the activist. A U.S. Embassy staffer went to check on Fariñas at his home on Monday.

“We remain concerned about the physical wellbeing of Guillermo Fariñas, Carlos Amel, and other activists engaged in a hunger strike in Cuba,” the State Department official said in a statement. “We are monitoring their situation closely.”

“We stand in solidarity with those who advocate for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly,” the official said. “We have raised our concerns directly with the Cuban government, both in Washington and Havana.”

Fariñas has dropped nearly 30 pounds since he began his hunger strike in July, said fellow dissident Jorge Luis Artiles Montiel, who has been acting as spokesman for Fariñas and others holding hunger strikes.

Fariñas’ mother, who is a nurse, is monitoring his vital signs, Artiles Montiel told Fox News Latino.

“His blood pressure is low, his pulse is slow, his heart rate is low,” he said. “He doesn’t want food or anything. At the hospital they had an IV pumping fluid into him, but he didn’t want it.”

“He wants no more medical intervention, even if his condition deteriorates and he loses consciousness. He told us not to call for help if that happens. But of course we will, how can we not? His health is in peril.”

The Cuban government has force-fed hunger strikers in the past. The United Nations considers force-feeding hunger strikes a human rights violation.

In 2010, Fariñas held one of his most watched hunger strikes as the Cuban government was in talks with the Spanish government about releasing political prisoners. The government released 116 political prisoners, many of whom were offered exile in Spain. Fariñas was one of them, but refused, saying – like some other dissidents – that he would not grant Cuba’s wish to rid itself of critics by banishing them to other countries.

Besides the U.S. State Department, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican of Cuban descent, several international human rights organizations, and U.S.-based groups that advocate for democratic reform in Cuba all have expressed concern about Fariñas.

Fariñas has been honored around the world for his human rights activism. Among the honors is the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2010.

Cuban dissident becomes weak from hunger strike; church may step in

farinas

The Miami Herald

Internationally-known Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas is growing gravely weak from a two-week-old hunger strike to protest human rights abuses while the Catholic Church has emerged as a possible mediator between the opposition leader and the government of Raúl Castro.

Fariñas, who is refusing any food or water, said Tuesday that he feels “very weak” but vowed to continue with a hunger strike that now includes some 20 other activists from across the island.

“I can hardly take a bath by myself and feel very tired,” Fariñas said by telephone from his home in the central city of Santa Clara. A doctor that visited his home Tuesday recommended hospitalization but Fariñas refused.

The dissident, who received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2010, said he was beaten on July 19 by two police officers when he approached them to inquire about the detention of another member of the opposition movement. Fariñas said was held inside a car for an hour and was repeatedly beaten while officers warned him to suspend any plans for community service projects.

“They are beating people up so that one does not get involved with socially-conscious projects anymore,” he said. “While they were hitting me, they told me they I could not distribute toys to children anymore, that I could not organize communal birthday parties, day care centers, excursions to the beach, rebuild any more homes for people…”

Fariñas said he believes the Cuban agents were trying to instill fear, “beat me with impunity” and without consequences.

Instead, the dissident launched a hunger strike, refusing to ingest food or water, until the Castro government publicly declares that it will stop beating opponents and harass small business owners or the self-employed known as cuentapropistas. Fariñas also is demanding a meeting between opposition members and a government official designated by Castro.

Last week, the opposition leader was admitted to the emergency room at a local hospital due to dehydration but he quickly requested to return home. Many fear for his health because of his frequent use of hunger strikes as a means of protest.

Dr. Eneida O. Roldan, chief executive officer at Florida International University’s Health system, said Fariñas could be facing a precarious situation.

“The average time a human being can be without drinking water is about two weeks albeit dependent on the physical and health conditions of the person and the environmental conditions of his or her location,” Roldan said. “Without food is a bit longer: usually four weeks. Again with the caveat of current body fat and physical and health conditions of the person.”

Fariñas is the most high-profile of the dissidents who have begun fasts and hunger strikes across the island to protest the beatings and arbitrary raids frequently launched against activists.

Continue reading Cuban dissident becomes weak from hunger strike; church may step in

To change Cuba, speak up for democracy again and again

raulpress

The Washington Post Editorial Board

President Obama’s visit to Cuba last month laid down a marker. The president hailed the island’s entrepreneurs, met with dissidents, and encouraged openness and democracy in the presence of President Raúl Castro, who rules without any. The regime’s answer has now been delivered at the just-concluded Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist Party: a loud “no way.”

The four-day conference, held in Havana, ratified the old guard’s hold on leadership. Mr. Castro, 84, was reelected as first secretary of the party, and the delegates cheered a farewell speech from a frail Fidel Castro, 89. Party members seemed eager to snuff out any lingering glow from Mr. Obama’s visit. Raúl Castro referred to the United States as “the enemy” and warned “we have to be more alert than ever.” The Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, called the president’s visit “an attack on the foundation of our history, our culture and our symbols.” He added, “Obama came here to dazzle the non-state sector, as if he wasn’t the representative of big corporations but the defender of hot dog vendors, of small businesses in the United States, which he isn’t.”

Obviously, Mr. Obama discomfited the regime. Despite some market reforms and economic tinkering in recent years, the authoritarian system the Castros have built still dominates state and society. The brothers’ intention is to make it impossible for Cuba to undergo the kind of transformation that is an ostensible goal of Mr. Obama’s policy.

According to the Associated Press, on April 8 one of Cuba’s most well-known advocates of economic reform, Omar Everleny Perez, was fired from his University of Havana think-tank position for allegedly sharing information with Americans without authorization. Mr. Perez was a consultant to the Castro government when it launched some market-oriented reforms. He confirmed his dismissal, saying it was not because of his contacts with foreigners but because he wrote critically about the slow pace of economic reform. “Sometimes they don’t like what you write or think,” he said.

Exactly. This is why the authorities relentlessly harassed Oswaldo Payá, a champion of democracy who was killed in a suspicious car wreck in 2012 along with a colleague, Harold Cepero; why regime thugs still assault the Ladies in White, relatives of political prisoners who demonstrate weekly; why they rough up other dissidents and free thinkers.

In all the enthusiasm in the United States for more tourism, cultural exchanges and investment in Cuba, there have been far too few demands for more democracy on the island. A lesson of Mr. Obama’s visit, and the Communist Party’s overheated reaction, is that the mere mention of democracy and freedom is a powerful tool. Mr. Obama put it simply in Havana, declaring that “citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear.” Those rushing to Havana lately must not forget to articulate this message, again and again.

Cuban activist interrupted a live ESPN broadcast from Havana and was arrested

ESPN’s Sportscenter sent Bob Ley down to Cuba to report live from Havana.

While Ley was reporting the results of the game between the Tampa Rays and Cuba’s National Team, he was interrupted on the set by a political protester, who began throwing pamphlets in the air and spreading his message over the airwaves.

Ley tried to push the protester out of view, but it was to no avail and he would get out of the way immediately and send the feed back to the game.

The protester and a companion were arrested by Castro’s police a few minutes after the incident, broadcast live around the woorld.

The violent arrest minutes later by Castro’s goons: