Category Archives: Human Rights

Chile demands explanation from Cuba after ex-minister denied entry

Reuters

Chile said Tuesday it was recalling its ambassador to Cuba for consultation and speaking to the Cuban government to establish why a prominent former minister was blocked from entering Cuba on Monday night.

Mariana Aylwin, a former education minister and daughter of ex-president Patricio Aylwin, was travelling to the island to receive a prize on behalf of her father. The event, planned for Wednesday, was organised by the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy, which has been critical of the Cuban government.

The organisation has also invited Luis Almagro, the head of the Organization of American States, which suspended Cuba in 1962 for being Communist.

While the Washington-based OAS agreed in 2009 to lift the Cold War ruling, Cuba declined to rejoin the group, which it deems an imperialist instrument of its former Cold War foe the United States.

Aylwin was prevented from checking in to her flight in Chile’s capital, Santiago, apparently at the request of the Cuban authorities, she told journalists on Tuesday.

“Exercising the right (to travel between nations) should not be interfered with, especially given that Chile has recognised the feats of various figures in Cuban history and politics,” Chile’s Foreign Relations Ministry said in a statement.

Mariana Aylwin served in Congress in the 1990s for Chile’s centrist Christian Democratic Party, and later as minister in the 2000s under centre-left president Ricardo Lagos, who is running for president in Chile’s 2017 elections.

She is seen as an ideological leader of the most conservative segment of Chile’s centre-left ruling coalition.

Her father was Chile’s first democratically elected president after the 1973 to 1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, and is credited with successfully overseeing the nation’s fragile political transition.

Top diplomat to accept award from democracy group in Cuba

Associated Press

A prominent diplomat is planning a politically sensitive trip to Cuba to accept an award from a pro-democracy group on the island.

Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States, will travel to Cuba next week to accept the Oswaldo Paya Prize from the Latin America Youth Network for Democracy, a spokesman for the regional organization said Wednesday.

Spokesman Gonzalo Ezpariz confirmed Almagro’s plans but declined to disclose details of a trip that could touch a nerve in Cuba, which has opened its economy to a degree but remains a one-party state and has had a rocky relationship with the OAS. He did not know if Cuban authorities had issued a visa for the secretary general.

The Cuban Embassy in Washington had no immediate comment.

The prize is named for a leader of a movement that sought a referendum on free speech and other political freedoms. Paya died in a 2012 car crash that his family blames on the government. His daughter, Rosa Maria Paya, leads the group recognizing Almagro with an award intended to raise awareness about what it sees as abuses by the region’s governments.

Almagro, a former foreign minister of Uruguay, received the daughter in his office in October, when they signed an agreement in which the OAS offered support to young activists in Latin America and the Caribbean and to expand efforts to promote human rights and civic participation in electoral processes around the region.

Cuba was suspended from the Washington-based Organization of American States in 1962. The suspension was annulled in 2009 but Cuba has not moved to rejoin the organization, which was created to promote regional cooperation but has been viewed by Havana as dominated by the United States.

Given that history, it would be unprecedented for an OAS secretary general to travel to the island to accept an award named for a Cuban dissident, said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

“It doesn’t surprise me that there are doubts about whether the Cuban government will admit a high official to talk about internal democracy and human rights, subjects that are still very sensitive,” Arnson said.

But Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, said Havana would likely provoke sharp reactions in Washington and elsewhere if it blocked Almagro’s visit when the government of President Raul Castro is opening up more to the world with economic reforms and amid the restoration of formal relations with the United States.

“To receive a human rights prize in no way threatens the Cuban government,” he said. “They won’t be happy and they will criticize it but they should let him in.”

Artist Pulls Her Work From Bronx Museum of the Arts Cuba Exhibition

The New York Times

A long-planned exchange of works between the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Cuban national collection, recently scrambled by the complexities of international relations, has hit another snag.

Tania Bruguera, a prominent Cuban-born performance artist and activist who has clashed in recent years with the Cuban authorities, is demanding that her work not be included in the second half of the two-country show, “Wild Noise/Ruido Salvaje,” and the museum has agreed to her request.

The Bronx Museum’s director, Holly Block, announced this week that the exhibition’s second half, which was to have been a selection of works lent to the Bronx from the National Museum of Fine Arts in Cuba, would not take place as expected, after Cuban officials declined to allow works to travel to the United States. In the summer of 2015, the Bronx museum had lent more than 80 works from its permanent collection to the National Museum to initiate the exchange. But Cuban museum officials have demurred on continuing to cooperate, possibly because of questions about whether state-owned art works from Cuba could be in danger of being seized while in the United States to satisfy legal claims by Americans whose property was confiscated in Cuba after Fidel Castro took power in 1959.

The Bronx Museum decided to replace this half of the show with another exhibition, scheduled to open Feb. 17, made up of some 60 pieces drawn from public and private collections outside Cuba, representing many of the artists whose works would have come from the national collection.

But Ms. Bruguera, one of the marquee artists in the new lineup, said in an interview Thursday that she did not want her work to be included in the show because she felt that Ms. Block’s exchange initiative relied too closely on the Cuban government, which she opposes. (She has been detained and questioned several times in Cuba during art performances and other activities, most recently this month.) She added that she was prevented by Cuban authorities, in 2015, from entering the national museum in Havana to attend the exhibition for the first half of the exchange and that Ms. Block did not intercede to help her.

“We asked her but she never signed anything protesting what was happening to me or any of the artists in Cuba at the time who were being oppressed,” Ms. Bruguera said. Her 1996 video performance, “Cabeza Abajo/Head Down,” which is in the Bronx museum’s permanent collection, was scheduled to be featured in the Bronx show.

Ms. Block, in an interview, said that she had interceded, unsuccessfully, with National Museum officials in 2015 to try to help Ms. Bruguera gain entry, though Ms. Block said that Ms. Bruguera had been seeking to attend a different exhibition at the time, not “Wild Noise/Ruido Salvaje.”

In a statement, Ms. Block said that the museum continued to support Ms. Bruguera, but would honor her request. “The Museum has long recognized and admired Tania Bruguera’s work,” the statement said. “We have exhibited her artwork, presented programs with her and have been instrumental in recommending her for awards.”

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.

American attorney defending Cuban dissident artist arrested, foundation says

The Miami Herald

An American human rights lawyer representing an imprisoned Cuban artist was arrested in Havana on Friday, according to the Human Rights Foundation.

Kimberley Motley was in the country to advocate for 33-year-old Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado, a dissident artist jailed for posting a video on Facebook mocking Fidel Castro’s death. He was scheduled to attend Art Basel, but has been imprisoned without charges since Nov. 26, relatives said.

The foundation reported that Motley was led away by plainclothes security agents while she was holding a press conference outside Havana’s National Capitol around 4 p.m. Friday. Authorities also arrested dissident punk rock artist Gorki Águila and democracy activist Luis Alberto Mariño, according to the foundation.

Cuba: Ladies in White Leader Berta Soler Arrested Without Cause

Breitbart News

Berta Soler, the leader of the anti-communist Cuban dissident group the Ladies in White, was arrested on Thursday after stepping outside her home, which is also the group’s headquarters.
Witnesses say she was not dressed in white, the color her group wears to protest the government and had not apparently engaged in any objectionable activity upon her detention. She was reportedly leaving to participate in an event to discuss access to the internet on the island.

“They arrested her at the door of her home,” fellow dissident Martha Beatriz Roque told the Miami-based outlet Martí Noticias. “She was not wearing white, it is not known why they arrested her… No one knows anything because nobody could leave [the house] or interfere in it.”

The news site Cubanet, which originally reported the arrest, claimed that Soler’s husband and former political prisoner Ángel Moya was in the home at the time of the arrest but unable to go outside during the incident. Moya was “thrown on the floor and beaten” during an anti-communist protest on Sunday that triggered a mob attack on his and Soler’s home.

That protest was the first in two weeks for the Ladies in White. The group — comprised of the wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, and other female relatives of political prisoners — suspended its regular Sunday protests for two weeks following the death of dictator Fidel Castro. At the time, Soler said that she was personally “very happy” that he had died,” but “we have chosen not to take the streets so that the Cuban regime cannot say that we are provoking [our arrests] or that we are opportunists.” It marked the first time in 13 years that the Ladies in White did not protest.

In that same interview with the Spanish outlet El Español, Soler warned that the repression against Cuban dissidents would increase following Castro’s death, and that “Raúl is as much a dictator and murderer as Fidel.”

They returned to the streets last Sunday, however. Five were arrested and five placed on house arrest for holding up signs with the words “human rights” on them and demanding freedom for political prisoners.

While Soler was not arrested on that occasion, she is regularly beaten, detained, and shipped far from her home during these Sunday protests. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), an NGO that tracked politically-motivated arrests on the island, reported that Soler was arrested three times in November alone — a number suppressed by her decision to keep the Ladies from marching following Castro’s death.

Soler’s arrest highlights a growing crackdown on the island’s most vocal anti-communist dissidents that began the day Raúl Castro announced his brother’s death with the arrest of Danilo Maldonado, a Havana artist known by his nom de plume “El Sexto.” Maldonado was arrested after celebrating Castro’s death in a Facebook Live video and spray-painting the words “he’s gone” on a wall in Havana. Following his arrest, his mother, María Victoria Machado, reported that he suspected police of sedating him in prison after repeatedly shouting “down with Raúl” from his jail cell and had refused to eat.

On her next visit to the prison this week, Machado found that her son had been severely beaten. To prevent him from attempting any protest action during International Human Rights Day (December 10), police had beaten him and kept him in solitary confinement naked, without food, for three days.

On Wednesday, Maldonado’s partner, Alexandra Martínez, arrived in Cuba. In a video from Havana, she said police refused to let her see him because “I am a foreigner” (Martínez lives in Miami) and only knew Maldonado’s fate due to poor timing on the police’s part.

“After three hours waiting… a white truck passed by with Danilo in there and he started screaming that they were taking him to El Combinado del Este,” she said. “We have not heard anything else about him, he hasn’t called.”

El Combinado del Este is a maximum security prison on the outskirts of Havana. While he has been sentenced to prison in the past for his art, this is the first time he has been transferred to such a prison. Maldonado has yet to be formally charged, though his family expects charges of defacing public property.

Dissident artist jailed in Cuba beaten and fed sedative-laced food, family says

elsexto

Fox News

One of Cuba’s most prominent anti-Castro artists is refusing to eat food served by his jailers, alleging that they have laced it with pills that induce drowsiness, those close to him say.

Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” was taken by Cuban security agents the day after the death of former leader Fidel Castro. Maldonado, 33, still has not been charged, but those familiar with the graffiti artist’s actions that morning say
that he posted a Facebook message seemingly gloating over Castro’s death and urging people to “come out to the streets…and ask for liberty.”

Maldonado also is said to have spray-painted “El Sexto” on a wall near Hotel Habana Libre.

His girlfriend, a writer who lives in Miami, said that Maldonado has been transferred several times since his arrest on Nov. 6. Alexandra Martinez told FoxNews.com Monday that Maldonado’s mother, Maria Victoria Machado, who has been allowed to visit her son briefly twice since he has been in the custody of Cuban security police, told her that the artist was beaten the day he was taken from his apartment, as well as last Tuesday.

“He’s an artist, he’s a human being who is just using his voice” and art for peaceful expression, Martinez said. “There are still no charges. He was taken to police stations and now a detention center that is maximum security.”

Maldonado had been slated to be at a Miami premiere of an HBO documentary that features him titled “Patria o Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death” last week, Martinez said.

“The Cuban authorities have a history of detaining El Sexto ahead of many planned performances, but Castro’s death appears to be the impetus for this particularly aggressive assault,” said Julian Schnabel, the producer of the HBO
documentary, in a statement quoted by the Miami Herald.

Other Cuba experts say that while Cuban authorities routinely detain prominent dissidents without pressing charges before, during or after a high-profile event, in recent years they have kept them in custody for less than a day, usually a few
hours.

They say that Maldonado’s extended detention is particularly hard-line.

“The classic pattern in the last couple of years is that police come and arrest dissidents either because they’re having a demonstration, or they’re planning to have one, and they hold them for shorter periods of time than before, and then let them
go without charges,” said William M. LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University, and co-author of “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana.”

“The police has hit upon this as disrupting dissident activity without processing people through the justice system,” LeoGrande said. “For [Maldonado] to have been in
jail for a long period of time without charges is unusual.”

Maldonado, who is active on social media, spent 10 months in jail about a year ago after he posted a photo of two pigs with “Fidel” written on one and “Raul” on the other.

The Human Rights Foundation said on its Facebook page that the Cuban government had charged Maldonado in 2015 with “criminal defamation” for linking the Castro brothers with the pigs, which the artist had prepared for a performance of George
Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

Amnesty International declared Maldonado a prisoner of conscience, and Human Rights Foundation awarded him the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent after he used the pigs to portray the Castro brothers.

Why we should back Tania Bruguera’s presidential bid for a free Cuba

 

tania

The Guardian

Art is good at pointing out simple truths that otherwise get forgotten, or conveniently ignored. Cuban artist Tania Bruguera has just announced that she is running for president of Cuba when Raul Castro steps down – as he has said he will – in 2018.

There’s just one snag. You can’t run for president of Cuba. The socialist island is not a democracy but a one-party state. Bruguera’s “artivism”, as she calls it, is a satirical performance that draws attention to the embarrassing reality that Cuba’s rulers are not freely elected by the people. “Let’s use the 2018 elections to build a different Cuba,” she says, “to build a Cuba where we are all in charge and not just the few.” She says she hopes “to change the culture of fear” with her utopian bid for the presidency.
Wait a minute. Fear? The rule of the few? What can she be talking about? This does not sound like the Cuba some people so love to sentimentalise – the socialist paradise in the sun where rum is bountiful and the only cloud on the horizon is evil Uncle Sam. Acknowledging that the US is roundly criticised by the UN for its trade embargo, Cuba’s undemocratic way of running things gets a very soft ride in certain quarters. In July the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, went to an event staged by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, which defends “the Cuban people’s right to be free from foreign intervention” – meaning the spectre, no longer very likely, of a US invasion. The Cuba Solidarity Campaign also says on its website that it opposes the US economic blockade, but when it comes to Cuba’s own democratic deficit, it has nothing to say. Instead it supports the one-party state that Bruguera accuses of instilling fear and the rule of the few.

She may be Cuban, but does she really know anything at all about Cuba? Doesn’t she know its people are happy, and that the only thing threatening their freedom is the US? Really, she needs to go to a Labour party conference fringe meeting to be re-educated by the Cuban ambassador.

And by the way, isn’t it a funny coincidence that Raul Castro has the same surname as Fidel Castro, the revolutionary leader who shaped modern Cuba ? Oh wait… Raul is Fidel’s brother. Well, surely it’s good to keep things in the family. Wise, as well, that in addition to being president of the council of state and president of the council of ministers he is also commander in chief of the armed forces. I mean, why bother separating those powers? Oh, and Raul Castro is also first secretary of the central committee of the Communist party of Cuba. In the eyes of Bruguera, this somehow smacks of an undemocratic, and even frightening, one-party state. No wonder the secret police have had to deal with her in the past.

Perhaps she is a CIA operative. Or perhaps she is a courageous dissident using the freedom of art to tell some very basic truths about her people’s desire for democracy. Just for the record, Amnesty International shares her scepticism about Castro’s glorious utopia. It reports that in Cuba in 2015/16, “severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and movement continued. Thousands of cases of harassment of government critics and arbitrary arrests and detentions were reported.” Vote Bruguera for a free Cuba.

Obama’s pick as ambassador to Cuba has ‘0% chance’ of approval, union says

delaurentis

The Guardian

While Havana welcomed the move, Republican senators pledged to block any ambassador nomination, citing lack of progress in democracy and human rights
Barack Obama has a “0%” chance of getting his nomination for ambassador to Cuba approved by Congress, according to the union representing US diplomats.

The president this week announced Jeffrey DeLaurentis as his choice to become the first American ambassador to Cuba in more than half a century, aiming to put the seal on his detente with the communist island nation.

But while Havana welcomed the move, Republican senators including Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas have pledged to block any ambassador nomination, citing a lack of progress in democracy and human rights.

Asked to rate the chances of DeLaurentis being approved, Ásgeir Sigfússon, spokesman for the American Foreign Service Association, said: “I would say 0%. With Marco Rubio on the Senate foreign relations committee, it’s never going to happen.”

Rubio and Cruz are both sons of Cuban immigrants. “They have sworn to do anything they can against the normalisation of relations,” Sigfússon added. “He might not even get a hearing.”

It is therefore a seemingly futile gesture on Obama’s part, Sigfússon said. “The president is exercising his right to be a late lame duck president trying to do everything he can. It’s symbolic. He drove through the normalisation of relations and gets to claim he’s the one who did it.”

The US and Cuba severed diplomatic ties in 1961, deep in the cold war. Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba made a surprise announcement in December 2014 that they had secretly agreed to restore diplomatic relations, including reopening embassies in each other’s countries. Obama made a historic visit in March, and commercial flights resumed last month.

Obama called the naming of an ambassador a “commonsense” step toward more productive relations and said DeLaurentis – currently the top diplomat at the US embassy in Havana – is the best person for the job.

“There is no public servant better suited to improve our ability to engage the Cuban people and advance US interests in Cuba than Jeff,” the president said in a statement. “Jeff’s leadership has been vital throughout the normalisation of relations between the United States and Cuba.”

He added: “Having an ambassador will make it easier to advocate for our interests, and will deepen our understanding even when we know that we will continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We only hurt ourselves by not being represented by an ambassador.”

On Wednesday, Gustavo Machín, deputy director for US affairs in the Cuban foreign ministry, described the news as “welcome” but said he will use a bilateral commission meeting in Washington on Friday to push for more.

“The Cuban delegation will point out the lack of advances in the economic, commercial sphere,” Machín said in Havana. “We consider the measures adopted by President Obama’s administration are positive but still insufficient and limited.”
Obama should also use his executive power to further narrow the trade embargo imposed on Cuba after its 1959 revolution, Machin said. “If the president could … allow investment in telecoms, why can’t he authorise investments in other areas?”

Cuba’s top diplomat in Washington, José Cabañas, was given the rank of ambassador last year.

But the battle over “our man in Havana” is already under way. Rubio said: “Just like releasing all terrorists from Guantánamo and sending US taxpayer dollars to the Iranian regime, rewarding the Castro government with a US ambassador is another last-ditch legacy project for the president that needs to be stopped.

“A US ambassador is not going to influence the Cuban government, which is a dictatorial and closed regime. This nomination should go nowhere until the Castro regime makes significant and irreversible progress in the areas of human rights and political freedom for the Cuban people, and until longstanding concerns about the Cuban regime’s theft of property and crimes against American citizens are addressed.”

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the state department and foreign operations, took a different view. “[DeLaurentis] is a career diplomat who is universally respected by his peers, and by Democrats and Republicans in Congress, for his intellect, his integrity, and his thoughtfulness,” he said.

“The decision to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba has been widely supported, and the number of Americans traveling to Cuba is increasing dramatically. We need an ambassador who knows Cuba, who is respected by the Cuban government, and who will stand up for US interests and values. Jeff is that person. The Cuban people have their ambassador in Washington. The American people need their ambassador in Havana.”

Since diplomatic relations were restored on 20 July last year, DeLaurentis has led negotiations with Cuba on issues including the billions of dollars in US claims against Cuba for properties that were confiscated during the revolution.

The Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, said earlier this month that, if elected, he would undo Obama’s efforts at rapprochement unless Cuba permits religious freedoms and releases political prisoners.

After a logjam last year that left numerous would-be ambassadors in limbo, the situation has much improved with eight awaiting confirmation, of whom five are expected to be approved this week, according to Sigfússon.