Tag Archives: human rights in Cuba

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

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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.

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One Woman’s Struggle for Freedom in Castro’s Cuba

Sirley Ávila

The Daily Signal

A slim Cuban woman speaks from a wheelchair at the front of the room.

The woman speaks softly for 10 minutes in Spanish, pausing at intervals to wait for her translator’s words. Her left arm ends at the wrist, and she cradles it in her right hand.

“My name is Sirley Ávila León. I am Cuban and reside in Cuba,” she says. “I was elected as a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power in Cuba by my neighbors in June 2005, for the rural area of Limones.”

There is nothing about the woman’s appearance to indicate “dangerous political dissident.” But her wounds attest that Cuba’s communist regime sees things differently.

The scene was the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, where Sirley Ávila León last month received the organization’s Human Rights Prize.

For more than a decade, Ávila has been a splinter in the foot of the Cuban government, a low-profile but aggressive advocate for the rights of her family and her community.

Last year, Ávila nearly was murdered in a brutal machete attack—the work, she says, of state security thugs.

Now in Miami on a medical visa, Ávila, 57, is recuperating just as aggressively from the machete attack.
She spoke to The Daily Signal through translator John Suarez, international secretary of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, who runs a blog called Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter. The interview took place in two parts between her medical appointments—and as she prepared to testify before Congress July 13 concerning Cuba’s cruelties and planned how to return to Cuba as quickly as possible.

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Cuba’s human rights abuses worse despite U.S. ties

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The Miami Herald, Andrés Oppenheimer

One year after Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington on July 20, 2015, Cuba’s human rights situation is much worse. It’s time for Latin America and the U.S. to stop clapping, and demand that Cuba’s dictatorship start allowing fundamental freedoms

On the first anniversary since Cuba reopened its embassy in Washington, D.C., one thing is clear: The reestablishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic ties — which I have cautiously supported in this column — has not helped improve by one iota Cuba’s human rights situation. On the contrary, human rights abuses have worsened.

This is not a conclusion based on random anecdotes from the island, but the result of a well-documented report just released by the Havana-based Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the island’s oldest and most respected non-government, human-rights monitoring group.

According to the commission, short-term political detentions have gone way up so far this year, from a monthly average of 718 last year to a monthly average of 1,095 during the first six months of this year. The number of political detentions skyrocketed during the months before and after President Barack Obama’s visit to the island in March, the monthly figures show.

During the first six months of this year, there have been 6,573 short-term political detentions in Cuba, which — if they continue at their six-month rate — would be a significant increase over last year’s figure. There were 8,616 documented short-term political detentions last year, 6,424 in 2013, and 2,074 in 2010, says the commission.

In addition to the rise in short-term detentions, the number of peaceful opponents who have been sentenced to longer terms in prison or labor camps over the past year has risen from about 70 to more than 100, the commission says.

“The civil and political rights situation has worsened over the past year, no doubt about it,” commission founder Elizardo Sánchez told me in a telephone interview. “In terms of [Cuba’s] domestic politics, the reestablishment of ties hasn’t had any positive impact.”

Sánchez added that “after Obama’s speech in Havana, which was very good, the government started a campaign to discredit the U.S. president, which was started by Fidel Castro himself. They hope to erase the memory of Obama’s speech from Cubans’ memory, and to continue improving ties with the outside world, while maintaining an iron fist at home.”

José Miguel Vivanco, head of the Americas department of the Human Rights Watch monitoring group, agrees that there has been no improvement in Cuba’s human rights scene since Cuba reopened the embassy on July 20, 2015. But Vivanco, who like Sánchez supports the reestablishment of U.S.-Cuban relations and the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, said it would be a mistake to expect that the normalization of bilateral ties will lead to less political repression on the island.
“Neither the opening of embassies nor the eventual total dismantling of the U.S. embargo will change the nature of the regime or bring about democratic and human rights improvements in Cuba,” Vivanco said. “Only effective and strong pressure from democratic leaders in the region and outside the region will achieve that.”

My opinion: I fully agree. It’s time for the Obama administration and Latin America’s democracies to cut the celebrations over the reestablishment of U.S. diplomatic ties and the end of the Cold War in our region. That’s old news by now.

Instead of extending the fiesta indefinitely, it’s time for Latin American democracies to denounce the region’s oldest military dictatorship. (It’s not mentioned in most articles on Cuba, but the island’s president, Gen. Raúl Castro, is a military dictator who alongside his brother Fidel Castro has overseen thousands of political executions and has not allowed a free election, political parties or independent media in almost six decades.)

Enough is enough! There is no excuse for Cuba to increase political repression at a time when Obama is dismantling what’s left of the U.S. embargo on the island, allowing U.S. cruise liners and commercial planes to ultimately carry tens of thousands of Americans to Cuba — their numbers rose by 84 percent over the first six months this year — and the first Sheraton hotel to open its doors in Havana.

It’s time for Latin America and the world to stop the clapping, and publicly demand that Cuba free political prisoners, stop the beatings of peaceful political opponents, and start allowing freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and free elections. It’s time for Cuba’s octogenarian military dinosaurs to go.

 

​The Cost of Obama’s Cuban Rapprochement

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The Harvard Crimson, by David Liebers and Michael Silva

As President Obama stepped off Air Force One to begin his historic visit to Havana, he seized the opportunity to fire off a tweet: “¿Que Bola Cuba?” His message, which in Cuban-Spanish slang roughly translates to “What’s popping?” or “What’s good?” was surely intended to ingratiate and serve as an opening olive branch to his hosts. The irony—that the majority of Cubans would never see his message thanks to repressive internet censorship—was entirely lost on the president.

This dissonance summarizes the mood of the two-day spectacle. President Obama, the first sitting U.S. President to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge, intended to lay the foundations for renewed cooperation between the two countries. The challenge for the President was to balance the diplomatic goal of demonstrating a workable political relationship with Raul Castro, while paying lip service to the issue of the dictator’s human rights abuses.

Predictably, the results proved awkward. During a joint press conference with President Obama, Raul Castro scolded reporters for asking about human rights violations and lambasted U.S. economic policy. Soon after the conclusion of the visit, an official organ of the state-controlled Cuban media used racially vulgar language to insult the President of the United States. The no-strings-attached commitment from President Obama to lift the embargo emboldened Castro to criticize the U.S. and redeploy his communist message.

Even more embarrassing, as our President posed for photos in front of a Che Guevara mural and tweeted about his trip, thousands of political prisoners—including members of the Ladies in White movement—detained for no reason other than their peaceful opposition to political repression, rotted in jails across the island.

The current Cuban regime has made brutality towards political dissidents a regular part of its operation. Raul Castro denies the presence of political prisoners, yet the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reports 2,555 detentions in the first two months of this year, after more than 8,600 in 2015. Members of opposition political parties are regularly subject to machete attacks, and refugees stopped by Cuban coastguard risk extrajudicial killing. Despite all this, U.S. leadership seems to have fallen for Castro’s propaganda.

President Obama says he wants to “bury the last remnant” of the Cold War. But his visit will have the opposite effect. It ensures prolonged communist rule in Cuba by extending an economic lifeline and legitimacy to the Castro regime. Seduced by the chance at being the leader who would liberate the Cuban people from the “failed” U.S. embargo, President Obama chose to cement his place in history rather than to stand with those who risk their lives to fight for basic freedoms.

The symbolic power that the United States holds to those standing up to totalitarianism is not easy for those of us born here to understand. But for pro-democratic freedom fighters—whether across the communist bloc in the 1980s, or today in Cuba—American solidarity has been a source of strength. There is no other nation so steadfast in its defense of freedom of expression, basic human rights, and democracy. Like the authors of this piece, one of the left and one of the right, Americans across the political spectrum ought to support these principles. The symbolic power of the U.S. in standing for human rights has eroded in this abandonment of Cuban pro-democratic dissidents.

The pain was real for Cuban-Americans who watched as the leader of the free world befriended the dictator they risked their lives to flee. One such Cuban, Natividad Silva, an 85-year-old retired pharmacist and the grandmother of one of the authors of this piece, fled Cuba in 1962 when the Castros confiscated her small business and life savings. She began fearing for her life as peaceful dissidents around her in Havana were incarcerated, tortured, and killed. Her story is by no means unique. It is shared by the millions of Cuban immigrants in the U.S. and the hundreds of refugees who continue to flee the Castro regime each month.

President Obama turned a blind eye to human rights violations and made the political calculation that his reversal of American policy towards Cuba would represent another jewel in his foreign policy legacy. In doing so, he abolished America’s unique role as a beacon of freedom to the pro-democratic Cuban opposition and to dissidents in totalitarian states around the world.

Cuba’s police state remains intact

The Miami Herald Editorial

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One year after the half-century diplomatic estrangement between Cuba and the United States came to a well-deserved end, the unremitting harshness of the dynastic police state run by Raúl Castro remains very much in place. Progress has been made on some issues, but Cuba’s people remain victims of an unbending regime.

For decades, the Cuban government used hostility with the United States as a pretext to deny the populacw basic political freedoms. Anyone demanding political reform was conveniently branded a yanqui agent, an enemy of the state.

What’s the excuse now? After U.S. and Cuban foreign ministers traded handshakes and beaming smiles as the flags of their countries were hoisted at reopened embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C., both sides expressed the belief that better relations were in the offing.

So the question must be asked: If the United States is no longer the enemy, why are ordinary Cubans still denied the right to peaceful protest, to a free press, to a public airing of their many grievances? What is the pretext now, when U.S. tourists are flooding the island?

No one expected an overnight change in the way Cuba treats fearless citizens who challenge the power of the almighty state. Inexcusably, though, there has not been one inch of give. Public protests are forcefully disrupted. Political prisoners remain behind bars. Dissidents face daily harassment. Dozens were arrested, with chilling irony, in the days before International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

Nor has there been a moderation of the message emitted by the state-controlled news media, which isn’t much to ask for. The barrage of propaganda coming out of Havana fails to reflect the business-like atmosphere of the public diplomacy. Cuban spy Gerardo Hernández, who was returned to the island as part of the normalization deal, is being paraded around the island as a great hero of the revolution. There are unconfirmed rumors that he may become a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee.

The tone of all this is triumphalist — akin to Charlie Sheen’s delusional “Winning!” while on a self-destructive rampage. Let’s be clear: Cuba’s old guard is not winning anything. The octogenarian leaders are marking time. Soon, they’ll all be gone from the scene. Until then, the new U.S. policy is paving the way for ordinary Cubans to discover that Americans are not the enemy. The pretext for a police state is a transparent lie.

Reaching out to Cuba was the right thing to do. It spelled the end of the United States’ diplomatic isolation in Latin America. The recent setbacks to left-wing, populist governments in Venezuela and Argentina are not directly attributable to the normalization process in Cuba, but they’re part of the context. Taken together, these events put the United States in a far better position throughout the region.

Meanwhile, there has been incremental progress on a number of bilateral issues that would have been impossible under the old rules. The two countries struck a deal last week to re-establish direct mail service, which was cut in 1963. A commercial airline agreement may be next and, last week, Cuba turned over a wanted U.S. fugitive to federal marshals in a rare (though not unprecedented) extradition. And talks have begun on the outstanding property claims between the two countries.

The obdurate nature of the Cuban regime threatens to discredit the entire normalization process, however. If Cuba wants to see progress — and persuade the U.S. Congress to end the trade embargo — it must allow the Cuban people to enjoy political freedom.

1,403 Arbitrary Arrests in Cuba under US Embassy Watch

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PanAmPost

Regime Escalates Repression following Normalization of Relations

While President Barack Obama reviews options to ease the trade and financial embargo on Cuba, the Cuban police are busy arresting dissidents for political reasons almost daily.

Since August 14, when the US flag was raised over the Havana embassy once again, Cuban security forces have conducted 1,403 “arbitrary arrests,” according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami.

The ICCAS report released on November 6 claims that Cuban authorities made 647 political arrests in July, 768 in August, and 882 in September.

Police detained these activists for various reasons, including holding pro-freedom events on Fidel Castro’s birthday, protesting the opening of the US embassy, attending mass, and calling for human rights with messages written on a bed sheet.

The report, which draws on monthly data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), identifies the city where each arrest took place, the names of the arrested activists, the alleged crime, and the name of the source.

The Targeted

Among the thousands targeted, the document claims that police harassed Wilberto Parada Milán of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) on August 14, and warned him not to leave his house in Havana to protest against the opening of the US embassy.

It further alleges that Cuban intelligence agents, dressed up as civilians, beat up Marcelino Abreu Bonora of the Civic Action Front, and told him they had orders to do it again if he approached Plaza Ernesto Guevara.

Others included independent journalists Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca and Yasel Rivero Boni, who spent five hours in jail for taking pictures of a fallen wall. Police also detained Javier Joss Varona of the Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO) for two days, because they suspected he could “illegally” travel out of the country.

The report lists other reasons activists were arrested, including trying to attend Pope Francis’s mass, denouncing the living conditions of a mother of three at the Communist Party’s provincial office, and being married to a dissident woman.

Torture Center for Dissidents

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White dissident group, tells the PanAm Post that Cuban police can detain citizens for hours for almost any reason.

“In Cuba, you can get arrested if they catch you talking about human rights with someone, or if they see you handing out anti-government flyers,” she says.

The Ladies in White group was among several other dissident organizations that Cuban police prevented from attending the pope’s mass in late September.

Soler spends time in jail almost every Sunday, along with her fellow Ladies in White, for taking part in the We All March campaign, calling for an end to arbitrary detentions, the release of all political prisoners, and free and plural elections.

The dissident leader has no doubt that the state’s repression of activists has escalated since the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations last December: “In September, there were hundreds of dissidents arrested who wanted to attend the pope’s mass.”
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