Dozens Of Activists Detained To Prevent Them From Attending Pope’s Mass / 14ymedio

Activists detained during the Mass of Pope Francisco in the Plaza of the Revolution (frame of a video -- see below for entire video)
Activists detained during the Mass of Pope Francisco in the Plaza of the Revolution (frame of a video — see below for entire video)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 September 2015 — Opposition groups have reported dozens of arrests during the late night and morning hours of Sunday, to prevent many activists from attending Pope Francis’s Mass at the Plaza of the Revolution. The number of people arrested could exceed thirty, according to Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

Among those arrested are four activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Zacchaeo Baez, Mary J. Sardinas, Boris I. Reñe and Aymara Nieto, who managed to reach the square and at least two of them approached Pope Francis and managed to talk to him about the violation of human rights in Cuba and political prisoners, a UNPACU source told this newspaper.

In images that have already begun to circulate on the Internet, we sees security services detain opponents who could have been taken to the fourth police station, located in the Cerro municipality, where they are also holding the blogger Agustin Lopez and his sister Ada Lopez. continue reading

Just outside the Ladies in White’s new headquarters in the Lawton neighborhood, in the very early hours of today, twenty Ladies in White were arrested when they left to go to the Plaza of the Revolution, including their leader Berta Soler. Also detained with there were the dissidents Angel Moya, Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles and Jose Daniel Ferrer. The latter reported via Twitter that “They took me handcuffed behind my back to the police station at Regla.”

The UNPACU leader, said, “Later, again handcuffed behind my back they released me again in front of the Bus and Truck Terminal that transports passengers to Oriente and other provinces east of the capital.” Ferrer added that in Santiago de Cuba “political police deployed special forces to suppress any solidarity action.”

At the center of the country, in the province of Villa Clara, at least 25 activisits belonging to various organizations attempted to board a vehicle to travel to Havana. The police stopped them and hours later they were taken to their homes where they remain under heavy surveillance.

For her part, the regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque was again invited this Sunday to meet with Pope Francis, this time at the Havana Cathedral. The invitation was communicated to her personally by the secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature who seemed stunned by the arrest that she had suffered yesterday when trying to comply with a similar invitation. Also invited to this afternoon’s meeting is the independent journalist Miriam Leiva.


3,522 Pardoned in order to Cover Up Cuba’s Sad Reality / 14ymedio, Marlene Azor Hernandez

Map of prisons in Cuba drawn up by the Cuban Human Rights Observatory
Map of prisons in Cuba drawn up by the Cuban Human Rights Observatory

14ymedio, Marlene Azor Hernandez, Mexico City, 18 September 2015 – The pardon of 3,522 ordinary prisoners in Cuba is excellent news, above all for their relatives. At the beginning of July something similar occurred when the Pope visited Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay. In the first two countries, the governments also took the measure with respect to the incarcerated, but it was not of this breadth. In Ecuador 24 inmates benefitted from the measure; in Bolivia there were no pardons, but hundreds of the more than 5,000 prisoners in the most populous jail in the country, Palmasola, would finally be sentenced and be visited by the Pope in his tour of the country.

Ecuador has more than 16 million residents, a penal population of 21,000 prisoners and 24 penitentiaries. In Cuba, for a population of 11 million residents, there are at least 200 jails, and the penal population is estimated at 70,000 prisoners. It seems that the elevated number of pardons is due also to prison overcrowding on the Island. continue reading

The Cuban government has staged “a positive coup” in international politics, above all with respect to those countries and institutions that need gestures from Havana in order to be able to give it their support. For a curious observer, the pardon figures raise other questions in the wake of the announcement.

In Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay, there are no political prisoners because public demonstrations in the street and freedom of association, movement and expression are guaranteed. That is not the case in Cuba where the dissenters suffer long jail sentences, beatings, and moral stonings on Cuban television.

The Cuban Penal Code, like that of the Soviets in the 1930’s and perhaps the North Korean one, punishes “illegal” exit from the country, contempt (resisting warrantless arrest) and the so-called “pre-criminal dangerousness,” that aberrant legal concept that is applied to crimes not yet committed. The gag law also remains in effect (Ley 88) which penalizes the mere fact of speaking against the government or publishing in the international press (as happened in the Black Spring of 2003 when 75 people were sentenced to 20 and 25 years in prison). None of these criminal laws exist in Bolivia, Paraguay or Ecuador, although censorship of the non-government press does exist.

In the Cuba that Pope Francis will visit there are today some 60 political prisoners according to the Cuban Commission on National Human Rights and Reconciliation (CCDHRN), and civic and political activism is prohibited. The pardon of the 3,522 prisoners will try to cover up this sad reality.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Francis Spoke Of “Reconciliation” In Response To Castro’s Combative Speech / 14ymedio

Pope Francisco greets Cubans from his popemobile on Saturday upon his arrival in Havana (Photo EFE / Rolando Pujol)
Pope Francis greets Cubans from his popemobile on Saturday upon his arrival in Havana (Photo EFE / Rolando Pujol)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 19 September 2015 — A strong wind at the Jose Marti International Airport blew Pope Francis’s skullcap of when he got off the plane from Rome that landed on Saturday afternoon at 3:48 in the afternoon.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio addressed President Raul Castro and asked him “to transmit feelings of special consideration and respect for his brother Fidel.” He particularly mentioned that his “greeting came especially to all those people who for various reasons I cannot meet and to all Cubans dispersed around the world.” continue reading

In his welcoming speech, Raul Castro recalled “the memorable meeting” he had with the Pope at the Vatican last May that “provided an opportunity to exchange ideas on some of the most important issues of the world.”

The Cuban president said that “the government and the Catholic Church in Cuba maintain relations in an uplifting atmosphere… We have closely followed his pronouncements, the Apostolic Exhortation ‘The Joy of Gospel,’ about social issues, and the encyclical letter ‘Praise be to you’.” added Raul Castro.

“We thank you for your support for the dialogue between the United States and Cuba,” the Cuban leader emphasized, calling the restoration of diplomatic relations “a first step in the process towards normalization of ties between the two countries.” But he insisted on the need, in relations between nations, to “fully respect the inalienable right of every State to choose its political system.”

Francis spoke of the victory of the culture of “dialogue and engagement over the system – dead forever – of dynasties and groups.”

“We are moving resolutely in updating our economic and social model to build a prosperous and sustainable socialism,” he said. He lost no opportunity to remind the pope that “the blockade, which causes human losses and deprivation to Cuban families,” is “cruel, immoral and illegal” and said that it “must stop.” He also spoke out against the “predatory actions of the rich countries and large multinationals.”

For his part, the Pope used his words to encourage the governments of Cuba and the United States to “continue to advance” in normalizing their relations and “developing their full potential.” He repeated the warning he has pronounced on several opportunities: “The world needs reconciliation in this atmosphere of World War III in stages in which we are living.”

Generating special sympathy among Cuban democrats was the choice of the Bishop of Rome to quote from José Martí in saying that the process of rapprochement between Cuba and the United States is a sign of the victory of the culture of “dialogue and engagement over the system – dead forever – of dynasties and groups.”

Francis said that “this apostolic visit also coincides with the centenary of the declaration of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre as the Patroness of Cuba, by Benedict XV.” He recalled that his program in Cuba will take him “to Cobre, as a son and pilgrim, to as our Mother for all her Cuban children and for this beloved Nation, that it may pass through the paths of justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation.”

John Paul II was also present in the Pope’s speech, evoking “his ardent appeal” that “Cuba opens itself with all its magnificent possibilities to the world and that the world open itself to Cuba”

At the end of his speech, the papal entourage began an extensive tour of the streets of Havana heading toward the Nunciature in the Playa municipality.

Bishops Agree to Cuban Communist Party Interference in Pope’s Religious Activities / 14ymedio, Jorge Guillen Garcia

Parish of Our Lady of Candelaria in the Candelaria municipality of Artemisa (Photo CC)
Parish of Our Lady of Candelaria in the Candelaria municipality of Artemisa (Photo CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jorge Guillen Garcia*, Candelaria, Artemis, 19 September 2015 — Once again Cuban Catholics suffer humiliation by the Government, without the bishops doing much to stop it. After months of official silence about the Pope’s visit, this week we learned – from the bishops – that they had to deliver the lists of participants in religious activities ahead of time to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

Giving those lists to the PCC is the same as giving them to State Security and the party officials have also decided to place some of their members on each bus where the faithful will travel to the sites where Francis will serve a Mass. We cannot understand why this is happening and why these people have to fill the places that should be allocated to other laity, because the capacity is limited. continue reading

However, it is even harder to understand why our bishops accept this imposition.

To attend the Mass of Benedict XVI in Havana the parishes lists had to give the lists to the government. Now, that sad story repeats itself

In Candelaria, the town where I live, at least three of the faithful who originally had planned to go to the Pope’s Mass in Havana, will not be able to go. On learning that they had opened up these spaces, I talked with the pastor so that other people could fill these places and his response was blunt. “We can’t do it because the Party already has the lists.” And he added that surely “they are going to fill those spaces with their people.” I communicated my discomfort with a situation, and that this wasn’t fair and that we should not accept it, but he only argued, “there is no choice, I can’t do anything.”

Something similar has happened with the planned meeting between Pope Francis and young students of Father Felix Varela Cultural Center in Havana. It only took a letter from the University Students Federation (FEU) addressed to the cardinal for him to arrange for the students from the cultural center to share with the FEU the place and time of the meeting. Those originally invited no longer have priority, while the official organization has undertaken a strong campaign in the universities to bring many students, because according to the words of some of their leaders, “we have to be the majority and impose ourselves.”

It is important to note that when we visited John Paul II we were the ones who prepared for the visit and it wasn’t necessary to give any list to the Party, nor to give space on our bus to their members. This visit was a success and we were able to participate in the Masses in peace. All this was possible thanks to the autonomy and independence of the Church with regards to the State, and its being an incarnated and prophetic church that is known to be at the side of its people. But when Benedict XVI came it was no longer the same. The Church had changed its prophecy with building permits and its incarnation for permits for processions.

A youth ministry meeting with the pope was canceled without explanation. Instead the pope met with Fidel Castro and his family

Under these conditions, the Government – with the consent of the bishops – manipulated this visit according to their will. So much so that a meeting of the youth ministry at the nunciature with the Pope was cancelled without any explanations. Instead, the Pope met with Fidel Castro and his family.

To attend the Mass of Benedict XVI in Havana it was necessary for the parishes to make a list of the attendees and deliver the lists to the Government, and their agents were at the doors of the buses to verify it. At the end of the call a large number of their agents who weren’t written down anywhere got on the vehicles, but no one could even ask for explanations. Now, this sad story is repeated.

Never, for any activity of the Church, such as youth meetings, marriages, ordinations of religious or bishops and even the Cardinal, did the organization share these lists with the Government. Nor did they deliver lists to control any of the internal matters, because this is the sole responsibility of the Church itself.

The Church must not cede its role and mission in exchange for favors that sooner or later require payback. For now, may the Lord of history protect us. We are like lost lambs without shepherds we can trust.


*Editor’s note: Jorge Guillen Garcia, author of this article, is a Catholic layman of the parish of Our Lady of Candelaria in Candelaria (Artemis).

Opponents Denounce Arrests And “Social Cleansing” Before The Pope’s Visit / 14ymedio

March of the Ladies in White.
March of the Ladies in White.

14ymedio, Havana, 18 September 2015 — The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) expressed Friday in a statement its “deep indignation and concern about the operation of ‘social cleansing’ that the government has developed in recent days” in Havana, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba. The spokesman for the organization, Elizardo Sanchez, stressed that thousands of paupers, beggars, bums, mentally ill and other wandering homeless people, in their great majority elderly people who have no place to live, have been interned before the Pope’s visit, that begins tomorrow.

The communication argues that the objective of “social cleansing” undertaken by the secret political police is to put these people out of sight of pilgrims, foreign journalists and other visitors. The organization stresses that the internments have been executed without judicial order and without disclosing the whereabouts of the victims. The CCDHRN asks the Pope to intervene for their immediate release.

The executive secretary of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer, has also circulated a message to publicize the arbitrary arrests of peaceful opposition within hours of the arrival of Pope Francisc.

Thousands of beggars have been detained in Havana, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba

Ferrer says at least two members of his organization, Alberto Valle Perez and Walter Reinosa Morales, were arrested yesterday in Havana, as well as Roberto Ferrer, a member of Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID) arrested with violence on La Palma, Arroyo Naranjo.

According to the UNPACU leader, in Santiago de Cuba and Holguin there is strong vigilance and mobilization of Interior Ministry troops, “ready to act against peaceful activists, defenders of human rights.”

The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, has reported the detentions of some 17 members of the organization in Santiago de Cuba, Bayamo, Santa Clara and Pinar del Rio “to avoid” their attending the Masses that will be celebrated by the Pope on the island.

Among the detainees are the activist Leticia Ramos and her husband. Antonio Rodiles, director of Estado de SATS opposition group, has contacted their family and has said through his Twitter account that they are “confined in a room riddled with cockroaches.”

Che’s Daughter Criticizes Communist Party’s Call To Attend The Pope’s Mass / 14ymedio

Aleida Guevara in June 2014. (Flickr)
Aleida Guevara in June 2014. (Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 September 2015 – Aleida Guevara, Che Guevara’s daughter and the director of the Studies Center named after her father, has criticized the call from the authorities for Cubans to attend the Masses that will take place during Pope Francis’s visit to Cuba.

“The PCC (Communist Party of Cuba) asks us, the militants, to go to the Mass, to go and receive Pope Francis; as if it’s practically the task of the Party, with which I don’t entirely agree,” Aleida Guevara told the press agency AFP.

In addition, Aleida Guevara accuses the Catholic Church of having been, “to a great extent complicit in the murders and disappearances of more than 30,000 Argentinians,” during the military dictatorship (1976-1983). However, she gives the benefit of the doubt to Francis, although she doesn’t want to dig into it so as not to be disappointed. “I don’t know where the pope was at that time. What did he really do? I don’t know.”

“I will receive the pope as a visitor, that seems right to me, because he is coming to my house and I receive him with the best I have, it is logical. But to go to a Mass, no, because here there is freedom of religion or of no religion, and for that reason I don’t think I will go,” she says.

During his visit the Pope will celebrate a number of Masses, the first one on Sunday in the Plaza of the Revolution, another in Holguin on Monday a final one on Tuesday the 22 at the Minor Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, in Santiago de Cuba.

Pope Francis and His Cuban Critics / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

Pope Francis did not hide his surprise at receiving Evo Morales’s gift. (EFE / Bolivian Information Agency)
Pope Francis did not hide his surprise at receiving Evo Morales’s gift. (EFE / Bolivian Information Agency)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 17 September 2015 — Of course all Cubans, no matter where they are, have the right to think as they see fit about events in Cuba and to look at other and related events according to the capacity of their vision or the calibration of their lenses, and others have the right to share or not to share these visions. My respect for everyone.

And here we are facing the third visit of a pope to Cuba in a few years when in all the prior history of Cuba we have had none. This is evidence enough of the importance the Vatican concedes to this little Caribbean archipelago, to its inhabitants and all of its natives.

Some criticize Bergoglio’s constant references to the poor and his dissatisfaction with the global systems of domination, his declarations that seem very leftist, his reforms and actions within the church, or his prologue to some book where he mentions social benefits that the Cuban people achieved in their struggles to better their living conditions, benefits that some may attribute as if they had been given the gift of multiplying the loaves and fishes.

No one would dispute Pope Francis’s role in mediating the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States continue reading

It is not possible to establish a dependency relationship between the narrow modifications introduced by Raul Castro and the Church’s influence in them, but it is undeniable that in recent years it has played some role in them. For some, it has been a simple screen, for others, something more.

But what nobody can dispute is Pope Francis’s role as a mediator in the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States, one of the most significant political events so far this year and from which the Cuban people expect many good things.

This pope could well come to “take stock” of this event with which he will be historically linked. Not by pure chance is he going to the United States by way of Cuba.

The reconciliatory role of the church is undoubtedly clearly expressed there. We would also like his help in our internal reconciliation, that’s true.

Some opponents do not agree with the reestablishment of relations, as they reject all eventual conversation or dialog with the Cuban government. They could not share the reconciliation, the political dialog, the mercy and forgiveness promoted by the Catholic Church as a part of the social harmony. They also have a right to that.

Pope Francisco is in a better position to lobby for democratization in Cuba than are those who criticize him from the opposition

In this context reference should be made to the positions we are defending from a part of the Cuban democratic left. And the first point of a platform — “For a broad democratic movement of the Cuban democratic left” — offered by three groups who made the call, states:

“The creation of an atmosphere of collaboration and harmony leading to the establishment of an inclusive national dialogue and the recognition of fundamental freedoms; a new Constitution which is the fruit of the creation and collective and horizontal discussion of the Cuban people, and then approved in a referendum; a new democratic electoral law, and the establishment of a modern State of Law with full working and informative transparency, under popular control, with autonomous municipalities, participatory budgets at the different levels and laws that affect all citizens and is submitted to a referendum. Finally, a Democratic Republic based in humanism and solidarity, with full social justice, comprehensively governed by the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which we all have a part.”

From these positions we welcome everyone that supports the creation of this climate.

Does anyone doubt that Cuba today needs an atmosphere of collaboration and harmony that brings us this constructive dialog and the conditions for a broad process of democratization? Or does someone still believe that democratization can be achieved by other unrelated means?

Does anyone not want this process of democratization for Cuba?

And one might wonder who brings better conditions of influence to bring about the realization of this environment that almost all Cubans agree is needed. Figures like Pope Francis in his approach to the Cuban government, or those who, from the opposition, scorn and even try to ridicule the efforts of the Catholic Church and its personalities for trying to help, specifically, in the creation of this indispensable climate?

The answer is obvious, but it should be expressed: Pope Francis is in better position to influence conditions in favor of the democratization in Cuba, with his policy of approach to the government, than are those who criticize from the opposition.

That his action results in support for the continuation of the current authoritarian and intransigent State, or in a positive influence in favor of the gradual changes that the vast majority desire, is a question that in practice has already been demonstrated.

In politics everyone speaks and acts from their own position, but there are positions from which one can talk, discuss, negotiate and get results, and there are others that make that difficult or impossible, that alienate and divide.

“Participatory and democratic socialism contemplates many aspects coincide with the social doctrine of the Catholic Church”

Everyone is free to choose their political position, their actions, which is not the same as ideology, but don’t expect to reap the same fruits. There is not the same fertile ground everywhere, there is not the same irrigation, there is not the same sun and certainly there are not the same cultivators and harvesters.

Everyone can choose how they refer to the pope and his efforts in Cuba: everyone can reap what they sow.

From the positions of a participatory and democratic socialism, which contemplates many aspects that coincide with the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, we hope that the upcoming visit of Pope Francis can continue this climate of détente and harmony in our country that is conducive to other democratic developments for the good of all Cubans.

In fact, his coming is already contributing, with the government’s recent release of more than 3,500 prisoners sentenced for different crimes. Hopefully it will also stimulate changes in the laws will prevent so many imprisonments and so much arbitrariness.

Welcome to the key of the Gulf, Pope Francis. May you have a happy visit and may your expectations meet success.

Generation Y Behind Bars / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Men handcuffed(Luz Escobar/14ymedio)
Men handcuffed(Luz Escobar/14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 17 September 2015 — With the publication of the Official Gazette No. 31, there have been many published opinions about the pardons granted to 3,522 prisoners in anticipation of the visit of Pope Francis. Most of the criticism has focused on the fact that the beneficiaries include no one sentenced for political reasons. However, on reviewing the list of the released prisoners, another element jumps to mind.

At least 411 of those pardoned have names that begin with the letter “Y,” more than 11 percent of the total. It could indicate the we are talking about people between 20 and 45 years of age, because from the beginnings of the seventies to well into the nineties it was a fad in Cuba to give children names starting with the penultimate letter of the alphabet. Thus, we are in the presence of the “New Man,” born and raised in a society that felt itself part of “Utopia,” living under Soviet subsidies and excessive ideological indoctrination. How is it possible that so much of this human clay has ended up behind bars?

How is it possible that so much of this human clay has ended up behind bars?

Meat from the social laboratory and the skin of prison, Generation Y is far removed from what was projected for it. It has come to live in a different country from the one promised, and to survive in this jungle it has had to do the exact opposite of what it was taught. Although the list of released prisoners doesn’t include the crime for which each one was condemned, it is easy to adventure what led many of these Utopian men and women to end up in a cell.

Perhaps among them is Yoandis who killed a cow to feed his family, or a Yuniesqui who stole fuel from a company to resell on the black market to make up for his low wages. Who knows if some Yordanka was led down the road to marital revenge because of gender violence? Or a Yusimi, who learned from the time she was little in the tenement where she lived that it was better to strike first than to strike twice? From little Pioneers with their colored neckerchiefs, they passed to being inmates in gray uniforms; from the Cuba of Marxist manuals they fell into the real world.

A generation trapped by circumstances, forced many times to commit crimes, pushed at others to escape, and condemned to few opportunities. The 411 families of these children of the Cuban experiment will be relieved right now to see them return, as will the relatives of the rest of those pardoned. But, the society they will encounter on passing through the bars continues to belie that which was once explained in front of the blackboards and at the morning school assemblies. Prison has been a part of the social alchemy that has touched them.

Czech Prime Minister Receives Cuban Regime Opponent Manuel Cuesta Morua / 14ymedio

From left to right, the Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Ondrej Ojurik and Manuel Cuesta Morua.(14ymedio)
From left to right, the Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Ondrej Ojurik and Manuel Cuesta Morua.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September — Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka met Wednesday with Cuban dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua–leader of the Progressive Arc and promoter of several citizen projects–during the last day of the 19th version of Forum 2000 in Prague. In the conversation, the head of state was interested in the political and economic events in Cuba and especially the situation with regards to human rights.

Sobotka, who delivered a speech during the last day of the forum on the promotion of democracy and education for development, welcomed the first signs of opening from the current regime on the island. The prime minister said that the Czech government was going to continue its long tradition of supporting the political liberalization and acceptance of human rights in Cuba. continue reading

Cuesta Morua is one of the five Cuban delegates who participated in Forum 2000, an annual event that started Sunday, bringing together activists and democrats from all over world. The initiative, founded in 1996 by president Vaclav Havel, the Japanese philanthropist Yoheim Sasakawa and the Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Weisel, promotes democratic values, respect for human rights, development of civil society and the strengthening of religious, cultural and ethnic tolerance.

One of the panels most interesting to the Cuban delegation was the debate on the perspectives with regards to relations between Cuba and the United States, according to the Baptist pastor Mario Feliz Lleonart. “We also had an excellent opportunity for exchanges with delegates from around the world and with personalities who now have more elements to evaluate the situation in our country,” added the fellow activist.

The main presentations of this panel were made by Cuesta Morua and another Cuban, the writer Francis Sanchez, with moderation by the Venezuelan Enrique ter Horst. Also participating in the discussion were Barbara Haig from the United States and Marin Palous, representing the European Union.

With regards to the process of normalization between Washington and Havana, pastor Lleonart recognized that more than the differences between the two Cuban panelists, “the idea prevailed that, at the end of the day, the fate of the island must be shaped by Cubans.”

At the close of the panel, Cuesta Morua said that “the triangle is definitely closing,” but that for this to happen, it is necessary that “the United States and the European Union send the same message.” In his opinion, “then it will be the Cuban Government that is isolated, not the people.”

Crossed Convocations to Receive the Pope / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Cardinal Jaime Ortega met with President Raul Castro. (EFE)
Cardinal Jaime Ortega met with President Raul Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, Mexico, 15 September 2015 – Two convocations have been made to the Cuban people asking them to receive Pope Francis, one from the Communist Party, and one from Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana. Both give details of the apostolic visit of the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church and the Head of State of Vatican City to Cuba between September 19 and 22.

The newspaper Granma previously classified the welcome of Cuban government and the people of the capital as cordial, and emphasized that “His Holiness will enjoy the respect, affection and hospitality which we will all offer him, during his stay in our country.” continue reading

The Cardinal gave a press conference with the capital’s journalists in his office at the Diocese, the details of which appear in the Havana Tribune (partially quoted in theonline site Cubadebate) where he urged Havanans to “receive the pope with an open and receptive spirit, and look on him not as someone important, distant and great, but as a close friend.”

The official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, in its Tuesday editorial, emphasized that Francis “will see our patriotism, and the arduous and fruitful effort of the Nation to exalt the human being, for its justice and culture; for that better world that is not only possible, but indispensable.”

The newspaper Granma said that Francisco “will see our patriotism, and the arduous and fruitful effort of the Nation to exalt the human being

Both calls, the political and the ecclesiastical, made reference to the 80 years of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the Republic of Cuba, but the cardinal downplays its importance, emphasizing that what is significant is “what the Catholic Church can do, from its authority, in support of restoring confidence in man, its capacity to confront the challenges of History at this time, and of Nature, affected by man himself, with excessive consumerism and the overexploitation of resources.”

When Granma summarizes the most important moments in these relationship it evokes “the visits of Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz to the Holy See in 1996, those taken to Cuba by the Supreme Pontiffs John Paul II in 1998 and Benedict XVI in 2012, as well as the positive meeting held last May by the President of the Councils of State and of Ministers Raul Castro Ruz with Pope Francis, in the Vatican.”

Jaime, without abandoning the first person singular, recalls, “In my capacity as Archbishop of Havana, I have received them, and always as Cardinal. I was named Cardinal 21 years ago by John Paul II. Later he came to Cuba and I welcomed him.” And later he continues, “I received him with great affection. It was also a joy to receive Pope Benedict and John Paul II. I have been very close to them, and both Benedict and Francis have always had a great knowledge of Cuba, a special affection toward our country, and a closeness to me.”

In what may have been the most lively moment of the press conference, held in the Havana bishopric, one of the journalists asked the Cardinal one of those questions that in the state media environment is considered provocative, “Many are asking, will you bring up the issue of Cuba?” To which Jaime Ortego, who never misses an opportunity to miss these kinds of opportunities, responded laconically, “This event, without a doubt, will leave traces in the life our Church and in the life of our people.”

This event, without a doubt, will leave traces in the life our Church and in the life of our people,” said Ortega

Although the two convening parties coincide in affirming that there has been unity of action with regards to preparations and ensuring the visit’s logistic base, it is clear that each one sees the issue from different viewpoints. While the Cardinal focuses on the conduct toward the Pope with a loving tone, the official text takes an emotional distance in these dealings: “We will listen to the words of His Holiness with respect and attention, demonstrating that we are a cultured and noble people, which, as a worthy host, will present its history, culture and traditions; immersed in the process of updating its socioeconomic model, committed to the defense of national sovereignty and to preserving its social conquests and achieving the greatest wellbeing for everyone without exclusions.”

The rest of the program, already published, includes a meeting with president Raul Castro, the holding of a Mass in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana and another in the Calixto Garcia Plaza in Holguin, the meeting with bishops, priests, monks and nuns, seminarians and lay people; the greeting of young people and Cuban families, and the final Mass in the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Patroness of Cuba. Neither of the two sources mentioned again that a meeting between the Pope and Fidel Castro is on the schedule.

Twelve Cubans Arrive on Miami Beach by Boat / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami Beach, 15 September 2015 – Twelve Cubans from Caibarien, Villa Clara, arrived in Miami Beach on a rustic boat this Tuesday a little before noon, after spending six days on the high sea, two of them in a storm.

The group of 11 men, one woman – all young – and a dog named Chiquita, arrived in a tourist area near the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a few blocks from Lincoln Road. Tourists and residents of the area congregated on the arrival of the boaters in order to offer them clothes, water, food and money. “We hear on the news that things in Cuba are improving, but this really shook me to see Cubans still escape from the country via the sea. There is something wrong in that,” said a European tourist to a 14ymedio contributor who arrived at the scene.

Tourists and area residents helped the 12 Cuban rafters who arrived today in Miami Beach. (Oscar Alfonso)
Tourists and area residents helped the 12 Cuban rafters who arrived today in Miami Beach. (Oscar Alfonso)

Oscar Alfonso, a lifesaver for the City of Miami Beach, said that on stepping foot on American soil they all “started to hug and kiss the ground.” One of the rafters had spent 56 days in jail in the Bahamas after having been intercepted by that country’s coastguard. A few days ago he returned to Cuba and when he arrived in Caibarien he decided to once again launch himself on the sea with his friends.

Another of the rafters had tried to cross the Straits of Florida 20 times and on this journey he managed to make it. The group spent three days without food and the last two days, adrift, they had given themselves up for lost.

Alfonso, who was working at his post on the beach when the rafters arrived, said that one of them told him it was “the most exciting experience of my entire life,” and added, “there are things that happen to you, it’s incredible the desperation a person has to have to cross the sea.”

They landed singing Willy Chirino’s iconic song Ya viene llegando (Our Day is Coming) and an American gave them an American flag, which they waved.

A resident of Miami Beach decided to take the boat home to preserve the history of Cuban rafters.(14ymedio)
A resident of Miami Beach decided to take the boat home to preserve the history of Cuban rafters.(14ymedio)

The boat – with a nylon sail and mast made from a guayaba tree – on which the Cubans arrived was moved by local police from the shore to the sand near the walkway. Betty Ortega, a Cuban resident of this city, was on the scene when the boaters arrived and told the police to leave the raft. “I told them that they could not take it because this is part of our history,” she said to this newspaper.

The police granted her request and gave her four hours to get the boat off the beach. Ortega will take it home; she still does not know what she will do with it, but she wants to make sure that this part of Cuban history “is told to the world.”

Since October 2015, 31,000 migrants have arrived in the United States, 30% more than the year before, according to figures from the Office of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

Translated by Mary Lou Keel


Rafael Rojas: “The Cuban Regime Seeks A 2018 Generational Shift Without Democratization” / 14ymedio, Yaiza Santos

The historian Rafael Rojas. (Rodolfo Valtierra / courtesy)
The historian Rafael Rojas. (Rodolfo Valtierra / courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Mexico, 11 September 2015 — Rafael Rojas (b. Santa Clara, 1965) has published Historia mínima de la revolución cubana (A Brief History of the Cuban Revolution) in Mexico, where he has lived for the last twenty years. In fewer than 200 pages, the historian covers the events on the island between 1952, when Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship was established, and 1976, the date of the Constitution adopted by the National Assembly of Peoples Power, which institutionalized the process of change initiated in 1959, plus a brief introduction about Cuba since its declaration of independence.

Rojas spoke with 14ymedio, not only of Cuba’s past but also about the island’s present and possible future.

Yaiza Santos. This book serves to demystify certain episodes magnified by Revolutionary propaganda and to recover other episodes that were buried. What “demystified” moments would you highlight?

Rafael Rojas. I would start with the vision of the old regime, totally negative, which the official history has transmitted: that of a neocolonial nation that has no sovereignty, is poor, underdeveloped, backward, authoritarian… over a time covering almost half a century, without distinction of periods. continue reading

The first chapter of the book is a reconstruction of Cuba prior to the Revolution, which speaks of the high rates of economic growth; of high social indicators, including the high rate of literacy compared with other Latin American countries; the great development of per capita consumption; and also the level of cultural and political development. And, also, the Cuban State’s elements of sovereignty.

I think it is always important to emphasize the degree of autonomy it once had in international relations. For example, the Authentic Party government, subsequent to the Constitution of 1940, created an alliance with Latin American governments engaged in what is called “Revolutionary nationalism,” very much in the Mexican tradition. It was a foreign policy that was not subordinated to the politics of the United States.

This contradicts Cuba’s current foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, when he said in Washington that “the United States and Cuban have never had normal relations.” He spoke there about the Platt Amendment, which he said was imposed by a military occupation, but that is not true: the Cuban Congress approved it in 1901. Nor did he mention, as Fidel Castro traditionally did in his speeches, that the amendment was repealed in 1934 as a consequence of a nationalist revolution in 1933 that created a democracy quite advanced for Latin America. I detail that: the 1940 Constitution, the 1943 Electoral Code, which is also very advanced, and the whole social policy of the Authentic Party government, including the first Batista government.

“The first chapter is a reconstruction of Cuba prior to the Revolution, which speaks of the high rates of economic and social growth”

Yaiza Santos. In addition to the plurality of parties and the press…

Rafael Rojas. That of the media is fundamental. The Batista dictatorship wouldn’t have fallen without the decisive intervention of the media and public opinion. The most widely read magazine in Cuba was Bohemia, which also circulated in Latin America. They magazine undertook a tremendous defense of Fidel Castro when he was imprisoned on the Isle of Pines and beyond.

Yaiza Santos. Another thing that has been forgotten: at the beginning of the Revolution there was still free opinion.

Rafael Rojas. I would say for the first two years. At the end of the 1960s the media was nationalized, although there are some that continued, such as EL Mundo or Revolución, until 1965, when Granma newspaper was created and the other newspapers were eliminated.

Yaiza Santos. Something very powerful in the Cuban case is how it managed to put itself at the center of the world.

Rafael Rojas. In the middle of the Cold War. A totally deliberate thing. The audacity of Cuba’s revolutionary leaders in placing an island of the Hispanic Caribbean a few miles from the United States in the middle of the Cold War through an alliance with the socialist camp… It was quite an operation! And it subjected Cuba to all the possible tensions of the Cold War, with all the disastrous consequences.

The audacity of Cuba’s revolutionary leaders in placing an island of the Hispanic Caribbean a few miles from the United States in the middle of the Cold War…”

Yaiza Santos. What would the whole continent have been had it not had that bastion there, which radiated and still radiates today?

Rafael Rojas. I think that the history of Cuba would have been quite different. It would have moved toward a regime with authoritarian elements, like every revolution, but it would have been very difficult to create a single party. Certainly a hegemonic party, PRI-like, but not unique, and there would have been greater public freedoms. Not to mention that Cuban economic development would have continued the course that began in the 1940s.

Yaiza Santos. You’re a big supporter of the resestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States, and this has provoked opinions, especially in the exile in Miami. What do you think will happen now?

Rafael Rojas. To start, from a point of view strictly of relations with the United States, normalization does not imply, to my way of thinking, a reinforcement or uncritical legitimization–without tensions, without conflicts–of the Cuban regime. I believe that what it will imply is that the traditional policy of the United States toward Cuba changes directions, methods, without losing certain basic premises, such as the defense of democracy, the rejection of violations of human rights or the rejection of repression.

I don’t think that the United States will discard these premises of its foreign policy. That doesn’t mean that with the opening of embassies a transition to democracy will automatically be achieved. I think that is a slightly magnified view.

With regards to the economic question, the reestablishment of relations with the United States reinforces the elements of state capitalism that have been created in Cuba and will consolidate a new economic class which, as we know, is very interwoven with the military sectors. Of that I have no doubt: this military corporate caste is strengthened with the reestablishment of relations.

But there could also be an element that encourages the emergence of small and medium private business with national capital that is not totally subordinated to the military corporate caste. At the same time, I think that this reestablishment of relations and the integration of Cuba into the international community will greatly activate the civil society on the island.

That doesn’t mean that with the opening of embassies a transition to democracy will automatically be achieved. I think that is a slightly magnified view

Yaiza Santos. And on the part of the Government? Will there be people in the Communist Party who are already thinking about what will happen next?

Rafael Rojas. In fact the official political agenda already provides for the idea of a succession of powers in February 2018. Raul has said many times: he will leave the presidency then, and he has said that the succession would favor the new generations. That would mean a generational transfer of the Chief of State, without democratizing the political system. The regime will remain the same from the institutional point of view: a single party, control of the media, control of civil society, penalization of the opposition – it is this status of illegitimacy of the opposition that justifies, through the laws and the penal code, all the beatings, repudiations, abuses, short-term detentions… Everything we see on the weekends.

But that’s where other actors get involved: there is a real opposition in Cuba, there is a civil society that can gain autonomy and there is an international community that does not ignore the violation of human rights. Starting with the US State Department itself: in its latest global report on human rights the criticisms of Cuba are harsh, and in the diplomatic notes that have been exchanged between the two governments throughout the negotiation, they have almost always mentioned the cases of repression, from the beating of Antonio Rodiles to the harassment of the Ladies in White, and the situation of El Sexto. This isn’t going to go away; the State Department will be in better shape to negotiate with its allies a more effective policy on human rights in Cuba.

“There are sectors of the Government, the State and the Party who have been interacting with reformist intellectuals in recent years”

Yaiza Santos. Is there a figure within the Cuban government who can lead a transition to democracy?

Rafael Rojas. Right now, I don’t see one, but it’s clear that there are sectors of the government, the State and the Party that have had relationships with reformist intellectuals in recent years and who have shown sympathy for some of the reform projects. For example, one reform that leads to a new law of associations, that permits greater development of non-governmental organizations or of autonomous organizations, which I believe would favor the opposition. Or a new electoral law that eliminates the candidate fees and that would allow truly independent candidates, outside State institutions, to present themselves for election and achieve a place in the National Assembly.

Clearly, there are not figures who define themselves from an openly reformist position, because political reform continues to be largely taboo within the regime and it is something that we can say is deliberately delayed by Raul Castro’s government.

Now, I think we will see a diversification of the ruling political class, especially after 2018.

Yaiza Santos. How will the exile be integrated into this process of normalization?

Rafael Rojas. It is very difficult to respond to that question. There is a sector of the exile, that which has been more integrated with the associations and political institutions of the United States, which feels betrayed by the Obama administration. While there are other sectors who don’t follow this line. Very probably we will also see a diversification within the exile.

I think the stigmatization of the opposition permeates a part of the population

My main criticism is that in my judgment, unfortunately, a sector of the internal opposition is frequently subordinates itself to this agenda of resistance to the reestablishment of relations. And then I do think, unlike my colleagues in Miami, that the opposition is a minority.

The vast majority of the Cuban people in effect has elements of disenchantment with the official positions of the Cuban government, and for the most part looks forward to a greater connection to the world. The Bendixen poll is impressive in this regard: 97% of Cubans support reestablishment of relations and Barack Obama got a 80% approval rating compared to 47% for Raul and 44% for Fidel. But I would also say that the Cuban government’s smear campaign against the opposition has been successful. We see it in the lack of solidarity with Tania Bruguera, in the constant support for acts of repudiation, and in the beatings. I think the stigmatization of the opposition permeates a part of the population.

Don’t Get Too Close, Brother Francis / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Works in progress to build the altar for the Pope in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. (Luz Escobar)
Works in progress to build the altar for the Pope in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 14 September 2015 — A Cuba of different points of view and clashing passions is what the Bishop of Rome will find when he begins, in a few days, his visit to the island. A country that wants to enter the future, but that remains clamped in place by a political discourse that died in the 20th century. This context will require all of the diplomatic skills of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, but it is worth advising him of the imposing verse from Ruben Dario: “Don’t get too close, Brother Francis.”

On his arrival in Havana a massive welcome and the corresponding family photos will await the pope. He will have to pose next to a power that decades ago ordered a the tearing off of scapulars, prohibited crucifixes, and forced the portraits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to be hidden in the depths on our homes. The same government that blocked, under fear of reprisals, several generations of Cubans from being baptized or entering a church. continue reading

In the plaza where the face of the atheist Ernesto Guevara adorns the façade of the Ministry of the Interior, Francis will celebrate his Mass. He will come preceded by his reputation as a revolutionary within the Church, a conciliatory man willing to break with protocol. He also carries on his shoulders having been a mediator in 18 months of secret conversations between the governments of the United States and Cuba.

The responsibility he has taken on with a gesture such as this surpasses the glory he will receive for his intervention. Now, it is time for other interventions. Francis will know close up a society where a few have excluded the millions in making decisions. A nation where ideological differences are paid for with insults, repression and exile. A system that has cultivated the evil leaven of intolerance, and where the individuals who govern are supported by the wolf of intransigence.

A papal visit will not change Cuba nor does the Vatican Head of State have to carry the demands of its eleven million inhabitants

Bergoglio will visit ex-president Fidel Castro in his long convalescence, the principal architect of so many divisions and sorrows. But beware: “Do not get too close, Brother Francis.” This man and power in Cuba represent just the opposite of what a Holy Father wants to promote in his homilies and acts.

The Cuban government will seek from this visit validation and prestige. Without a doubt, it will gain something. It will show a better disposition toward believers, although deep down it continues its distrust of the Catholic Church and has not offered a public self-criticism for the years of excess against the faithful. On the other hand, it will pardon almost 3,500 prisoners, but it will maintain intact the penal code that sends so many people to prison for the simple act of killing a cow or opposing the government.

The faithful and the people in general will live days of hope and control. If the repressive blueprint of Benedict XVI’s visit is repeated, many will learn the content of the Masses days later when they emerge from the cells where there will have been held in “preventive detention.” They also will want the shepherd to intercede for them, to speak for them, to recognize their existence. Can Bergoglio gather up these demands?

We must remember that a papal visit will not change Cuba nor does the Vatican Head of State have to carry the demands of its eleven million inhabitants. “Go to your monastery, Brother Francis, continue on your path and your sanctity,” the Nicaraguan bard would have told him. However, this time, we need you to stop, to be aware, to calm this beast of political nonsense that lives among us.

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

In The Medical Missions, More Hardship Than Money / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Cuban doctors who defected from missions in Venezuela demonstrated in Bogota, Colombia on 22 August. (Dened Vega 14ymedio)
Cuban doctors who defected from missions in Venezuela demonstrated in Bogota, Colombia on 22 August. (Dened Vega 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, 12 September 2015 — Tania (not her real name) is one of the 3,525 workers of the Ministry of Public Health from Camagüey who work in around 50 countries around the world. Her medical mission abroad just ended and now she is trying to readapt to her own country. However, two years away from her native province has changed this therapy and rehabilitation specialist forever.

“Despite all the difficulties I had to face there, I now have the impression that I have traveled back in time,” she explains. Her stay in Venezuela was not without setbacks. Living in a poor neighborhood in Caracas, Tania had to deal with violence, food shortages and the increasing animosity among many Venezuelans against Cubans who are on official missions.

“It never crossed my mind to escape, because I have my two children here and they would punish me so that I couldn’t see them for years” continue reading

There are 2,063 aid workers in Venezuela from this Cuban province. Most of them provide services in the so-called Barrio Adentro (Inside the Neighborhood) and Operation Miracle missions. Several of Tania’s colleagues were distributed among the states of Apure, Aragua, Carabobo, Guarico, Miranda and Zulia. She says she “was luckier” to stay in the capital, “where there are more options.”

Of the 323 health technicians from Camaguey that were recorded in the middle of this year in the South American country, not everyone made it to the end of the regulation time. “We had multiple desertions and one way to prevent people from continuing to escape to Colombia or the United States was to take away our passports,” this woman explains. And she adds, “It never crossed my mind to escape, because I have my two children here and they would punish me so that I couldn’t see them for years.”

Through the US program known as Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP), as of 2006 a provision was implemented that allows Cuban physicians who participate in official medical missions to qualify for a visa to enter the United States. More than 720 health professionals from the island escaped from Venezuela between January and late August this year.

Tania had a fixed goal in mind, “to make money to enlarge my parents’ house and have a private place for my marriage and my children,” she says. However, the money accumulated in months of hardship in Caracas was not enough to complete the long-awaited housing. “All construction materials are very expensive and we could not finish the bathroom or the kitchen.” After two years of work she managed to save the equivalent of five thousand dollars, which she brought home with her.

Tania had a fixed goal in mind, “to make money to enlarge my parents’ house and have a private place for my marriage and my children

“I had to sweat for this little piece of land,” she says. “We were in a shared house and drank instant soup almost every day,” she says of her life in Caracas. “All I bought was something to bring to my children, a flat-screen television and a laptop for the older one.”  To achieve this she had to “give up many necessities. We lived like dogs in a shelter, on top of each other, without any privacy,” she remembers.

On her return to Cuban, the young woman has taken up the business of reselling food products and drinks, which she buys at a discount thanks to a magnetic card she received for having been on a foreign mission. “Here,” she says, while showing the plastic rectangle, “I have accumulated the Cuban salary paid to me every month that I couldn’t collect over there, as well as a bonus in convertible currency.”

As a health professional who participated in Barrio Adentro, now she gets a discount on products she buys in stores in convertible currency. “It can reach 10 or 15 percent off, particularly for soft drinks and beer.” So the specialist in rehabilitation therapy and is now dedicated to reselling drinks to families who are organizing wedding parties or quinceañeras (girls’ fifteenth birthday parties). Everyone wins.

“We lived like dogs in a shelter, on top of each other, without any privacy”

“With that I’ll be able to get the dishes and the plumbing fixtures I need to buy,” she says. However, she believes that the remuneration that she received for her work abroad was “not much for the effort.” It was not only the workload, she says. “I had a friend who had a nervous breakdown because she was trapped in a riot in the street; she’s still under psychiatric treatment and, as she didn’t finish out her contract, she didn’t get the salary bonus.”

Despite the difficulties, Tania wants to return to a new mission. “I already have contacts in South Africa for an individual contract,” but this time, she explains, “I will take my family… and if I ever saw you, I don’t remember.”

Friends of ‘El Sexto’ Ask the Pope to Intercede for His Release / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The social media campaign under the hashtags #FreeElSexto #LibertadParaDanilo continues to gather steam. (
The social media campaign under the hashtags #FreeElSexto #LibertadParaDanilo continues to gather steam. (

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Mexico, 13 September 2015 — Fifty friends of Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto (the Sixth), signed a letter to Pope Francis on Sunday, asking him to intercede for the release of the artist. The letter, published in the digital site Causes, states: “We come to you with the hope that you can intercede to repair the injustice against this young artist.”

The signatories to this letter describe El Sexto as an artist who decided “to express his dissatisfaction with the Government through graffiti and handing out flyers.” They explain that for this reason “he has lived under constant police vigilance and harassment.” A pressure expressed through innumerable arrests, “arbitrary searches of his home and confiscation of his paint cans.”

The initiative, promoted by his friend and colleague Lia Villares, explains that “for more than eight months he has been held in custody without a trial or formal accusations [and thus] we, Danilo’s friends, are demanding his unconditional release and that our most essential freedoms be respected.” The text also makes “a call for genuine and transparent tolerance.” continue reading

El Sexto was arrested last December 25, while preparing for a performance that would have dropped two pigs in a Havana square with the names Fidel and Raul painted on their sides. Currently he is being held in the Valle Grande prison, accused of disrespect, a crime which could result in a sentence of from one to three years in prison, although to date he has not been taken to trial.

The letter also conveys the fear of many activists that there will be a possible wave of repression during the days of Pope Francis’s visit to the Island. “Know that many of us will be incarcerated for the sole reason of your visit to Cuba,” it warns. “Our telephone services will be illegally cut off to prevent our attending the Mass at Civic Plaza*.”

A strong police operation was carried out against peaceful dissidents and opponents during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba. Between March 26 and 28 in 2012, when he was in the country, the authorities carried out dozens of arrests of activists, house arrests and massive cuts in the mobile phone lines belonging to representatives of independent civil society.

The signatories of the letter concluded that “the right to freedom of expression and artistic creation deserves respect and value,” such that “our government must protect critical artists, not persecute them.”

In recent weeks, several independent groups have sent letters to Pope Francis in advance of his arrival in Cuba. Among them are the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the United Anti-totalitarian Front (FANTU) and the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum. Almost all messages agree in the request for the release of political prisoners and to intercede with the Government of Cuba for greater freedom and dialogue.

*Translator’s note: “Civic Plaza” is the pre-Revolution name of what is now called the “Plaza of the Revolution.”