Between the “Collectives” and the “Rapid Response Brigades” / Antonio G. Rodiles

8500-fotografia-gState violence has been the Cuban regime’s principle recourse for maintaining power for over 55 years. Beginning with the insurrection against Fulgencio Batista, executions, as a method of punishment, were used relentlessly. Anyone who wanted to show their loyalty had to deliver the coup de grace and take part in executions. A mix of the Communist brutality of Mao’s China and Stalin’s Soviet Union, with doses of the Mexican Revolution.

Watching the revolutionary courts, the shouts of “to the wall,” the ruthless political imprisonment, and the continued executions ratified and defended by Ernesto Guevara on the dais of the United Nations itself, instilled a feeling of helplessness within a great part of Cuban society.

The so-called Cuban Revolution has a violent history that it will never break free of because it is part of its nature. The infamous “acts of repudiation” in the ‘80s led to the more frequent use of vigilante groups, known as “rapid response brigades,” who doled out beatings and followed orders with the objective of instilling terror in citizens.

These rapid response brigades have been transformed in content and action according to the circumstances and needs of the regime. In the ‘80s they focused on those Cubans who wanted to leave the country; starting in the ‘90s they used them against human rights defenders; until finally coming to focus on any opponent or activist.

Today, these groups for the most part are made up by paid agents of the Interior Ministry, working surgically to prevent the spread of outbreaks of discontent or free thought within the Cuban population.

chavez_-_fidelWith the coming to power of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro’s influence in Venezuela became visible. After the failed coup d’etat against Chavez in April 2002, the Havana regime increased its influence in issues of security and its military presence became increasingly notable. Of course the “rapid response brigades” were also exported from Cuba, now called “Bolivarian militias” or “collectives.” Since then, they have concentrated on arming and preparing them to respond with violence and terror in the face of possible democratic demands.

The reaction of these violent vigilante to the protests of recent days has made clear that the “collectives,” in coordination with the police forces, have orders to stifle any protest through the excessive use of violence. Terror must be part of the Venezuelan imagination for the full functioning of the regime-under-construction.

The Chavista strategy has been to wrest away democratic spaces, fragment them, and even to dismantle not only democratic institutions, but also civil society organizations. Cuba’s ruling elite knows that a change in Venezuela implies enormous pressure on the island and the certain end of the Castro regime. They know that ordering or driving indiscriminate repression in Venezuela has no legal consequences for them, but rather for the regime in Caracas. They would prefer a thousand times over to cling to the oil no matter it costs, rather than coming to a massive repressive crackdown on the island.

The Venezuelan military should know that Havana will lead them to the brink without the slightest hesitation, but at the same time they should understand that the Castro regime’s codes are not those of the present century — in this century they can often be counterproductive and extremely dangerous.

What is happening in Venezuela should raise serious concerns on the continent because it opens the door to a social dynamic with unpredictable consequences. To create and institutionalize urban vigilante groups, which, to sustain power enjoy perks and impunity, creates an extremely complex scenario in a region where the Rule of Law remains a dream yet to be achieved.

In a region where organized crime, marginalization and poverty are part of the reality, the spread of Cuban methods of social control should set off alarm bells. The violence and cynicism of the Castro regime can still do a lot of damage in Latin America. The Cuban pattern is disastrous. To spread it would undermine the still weak Latin American democracies.

It is essential, therefore, to offer major support and solidarity to the efforts of Venezuelans. Not only is the return of democracy and fundamental rights being decided there, but also being decided is putting the breaks on the introduction of state violence through the use of criminal gangs and urban vigilantes as a norm in the region. Those of us who defend democracy, have a commitment today to Venezuela.

Antonio Rodiles, Havana, 22 February 2014

A Moment of Zen in the Midst of Chaos / Ailer Gonzalez [Video]

Please click on the image to watch the video

Please click on the image to watch the video

After the violent arrest of her husband, Antonio Rodiles, at the Human Rights Conference sponsored by Estado de Sats, Ailer Gonzalez chose a moment of non-violence in the midst of the madness. As children, still in their uniforms and taken out of school to spend the day harassing human rights advocates swirled around her, Ailer sat quietly under the Havana sun…

Note: At the beginning of the video in the bottom left Antonio’s mother (green dress and cane) can be seen walking back to the house after the arrest with one of the conference participants who then turns back to talk to Ailer. The other adults in video are primarily plainclothes State Security agents working for the Ministry of the Interior. The flag the children are waving (other than Cuba’s) is Venezuela’s.

Repression at Estado de SATS (Video)

This video was taken in the street outside the home of Antonio Rodiles, which is also the headquarters of Estado de SATS, where a Conference on Human Rights was being held in honor or World Human Rights Day.

The man in the blue shirt with glasses is Antonio Rodiles, director of Estado de SATS. The woman appearing next to him in a black dress early in the video, and sitting on the street later in the video, is Ailer Gonzalez, Antonio’s wife and also one of the active coordinators of Estado de SATS. The older woman in the long green dress holding a cane is Antonio’s mother.

The children (in and out of school uniform) were taken out of school to spend the day “repudiating” the Estado de Sats Human Rights Conference (a government spokesperson claimed they were having a “sports day” on this residential street and that Antonio was abusing the children when he was arrested).

Antonio Rodiles Arrested With Extreme Violence / Estado de SATS

Plainclothes State Security before the violence. Photo from Lia Villares

Plainclothes State Security before the violence. Photo from Lia Villares

From Agents of the State Security (the political police) just kidnapped Antonio Rodiles, leader of the independent social-cultural group Estado de SATS, using extreme violence, according to what could be learned from the activist and journalist Camilo Ernesto Olivera. Rodiles stepped a few yards off his property to ask some schoolchildren to stop painting signs on the street against the attendees of the Human Rights Conference being held at house beginning yesterday.

There was an altercation with the police and State Security rapidly stepped in. As Rodiles was being detained his wife and his mother, Ailer Gonzalez and Gladys Fernandez respectively, protested and were surrounded by the government demonstrators, children and adults.

Then began a typical act of repudiation (insults and expletives) like those held in the early 80s against those leaving the country. At the time of this writing the two women remain under siege.

On the closing day of the First International Conference on Human Rights being held in Rodiles’ home, the house remained surrounded and the use of children as political mediators, with songs, music and government banners, continued. Camilo Ernesto Olivera underscored how unfortunate it is that the State gets involved in this situation to block the Conference.

The Washington Post carried an editorial in support of the Rodiles: Antonio Rodiles boldly confronts the Castro regime

11 December 2013

Antonio Rodiles’ House Besieged at Dawn / Augusto Cesar San Martin, Camilo Ernesto Olivera

policias1HAVANA, Cuba  December 10, 2013, Augusto César San Martín / The home of Antonio Rodiles, leader of the independent group Estado de Sats, which from today through tomorrow is celebrating the First International Conference on Human Rights, was besieged by the police and plainclothes agents as the sun rose this morning. Third Street, from the Copacabana Hotel, is closed.

Around nine o’clock in the morning, this reporter was able to see a strong force deployed with the purposed of blocking political opponents, both from within the island as well as those who have managed to come from abroad, from participating in the day.

The director of Estado de Sats and the For Another Cuba campaign has said that this is the first attempt to organize an event of this kind, in which the topic of ratification of the UN covenants on human rights, signed by the Cuban government, will be addressed.

This reporter, in a taxi, tried in vain to reach the house, located in the Miramar neighborhood. The car was diverted. From 3rd and 42nd Streets the police are directing traffic. There are agents on the corners, with civilian staff. State Security cars and minibuses are located at the intersections.

The front of Rodiles’ house is deserted because 1st Street is closed. Cars coming from the Copacabana Hotel are diverted.

The Social/Labor Circle adjacent to Rodiles’ house has speakers playing the music of regime supporter Silvio Rodriguez very loudly.  The audio can be heard from 3rd Street.

The few participants who were able to reach the house days earlier have not been able to leave to avoid being arrested. Among them is the troubadour Boris Larramendi, from the Cuban group Habana Abierta (Open Havana), based in Spain.

Larramendi traveled specifically for the meeting and will close the event tomorrow, December 11.

The event from within

HAVANA, Cuba, December 10, 2013, Camilo Ernesto Olivera / Ultimately, and contrary to expectations, there was no direct police action against the organizer, Antonio Rodiles, who yesterday was accused of a traffic violation that he, in fact, had not committed. The initial session of the First International Conference on Human Rights was held without incident.

The turnout from the public has not been as expected, only twenty participants have managed to arrive, almost none from outside the country. But the foreign media and embassies accredited on the island, such as Spanish Television, have been able to report on the event.

The first panel, led by researcher Walfrido Lopez, was on human rights and the new media. Lopez presented a video on media from abroad which follow Cuba with interviews with directors and newspaper editors

Coming up is a panel on human rights in Latin America, and the another on institutional violence against women in Cuba.

There will also be an exhibition of posters of the event and for tomorrow a concert with Boris Larramendi troubadour, who came from Madrid.

As interference, the government, through State Security and its mass organizations, has mounted a kind of Street Plan in front of Rodiles’ house. They have staged a party with music and snacks for neighborhood children, who did not attend classes today, to justify closing the street to traffic.

Also, the social / labor circle known as La Copa (The Cup), located on 1st and 42nd Streets is being used as the command post by the political police.

Since early morning they have been playing the songs of troubadours who support the government, Silvio Rodriguez and the duo Buena Fe.

The operation recalls the era of General Abrantes, the Interior Minister in charge of acts of repudiation against citizens trying to leave the country. The siege techniques are the same except that no one is throwing eggs.

10 December 2013

The Henchman Camilo Is Leading the Repression Against Human Rights Day

The State Security henchman known as "Agent Camilo"

The State Security henchman known as “Agent Camilo”

State Security showed up at home of Antonio Rodiles, leader of Estado de SATS, and tried to arrest him to avoid the celebration of the events for Human Rights Day.

[Tuesday] the First International Event For the UN Covenants will begin, organized by Estado de SATS, an event that forms a part of the of the For Another Cuba Campaign, and includes panels, audiovisuals, an exposition titles “Art and Human Rights,” performances and a closing concert.

The agents tried to handcuff him and take him to the police station, supposedly for violating traffic laws. The event participants confronted the uniformed offices to block the arrest.

Rodiles had gone to pick up a collaborator. On the way there he saw Agent Camilo, known for the cruelty of his methods against the opposition, who ordered the police to arrest him.

The police left the dissident’s house, apparently to get an arrest warrant.

From Diario de Cuba, 9 December 2013

Letter from Antonio G. Rodiles to Raul Castro / Antonio Rodiles

antoniorodiles-e1386618774168Letter from Antonio G. Rodiles to Raul Castro

Havana, December 6, 2013

Mr. Raúl Castro Ruz,

My name is Antonio Enrique González-Rodiles Fernández, Cuban citizen, resident of Ave 1ra. Number 4606 in the municipality of Playa, Havana. I studied physics at the University of Havana and later earned the titles of PhD Candidate in Physics and Masters in Mathematics from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and Florida State University, respectively. After 12 years living outside my country, I decided to return with the idea of being part of a process of change that will help us out of the disastrous situation in which we live.

In the summer of 2010, as a result of these concerns and with a group of friends, artists, intellectuals, activists, Estado de SATS was developed, a civic and cultural project that proposes through art and thought a public space for free debate of ideas and views about our nation.

The project has been carried out in my own home for three years, given the impossibility and refusal of the authorities to accommodate it in a public space or institution. Since its inception, dramatic police operations around my house, accompanied by beatings and arbitrary arrests against the attendees, have been a constant.

My family and I have received multiple threats and pressure including my being beaten by several State Security agents and detained this November for 19 days for the supposed crime of resistance. The authors of this violation continue to commit the same abuse with impunity.

Last week two of the tires on my car were punctured and a chemical liquid with a terrible stench was poured on the seats, as stated in Complaint number 66804 filed on November 26 at the 5th Station of the People’s Revolutionary Police (PNR) in the municipality of Playa.

Just two days ago urine was thrown on the front seats and, to all of this, is added the warnings that we have been sent of possible acts of repudiation to block an event we are going to hold on December 10 and 11, celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as part of a campaign asking for the ratification and implementation of the UN Covenants.

This event will have the same characteristics as all those we have developed previously, where a plurality of opinions and full respect for others have been our premises.
The situation we are living in is unsustainable, after 54 years of running the country on whims, violations and abuse, the result screams before our eyes. Every individual who dares to publicly express their disagreements is destined to be treated in a degrading and humiliating way with no possibility of appeal to any authority.

The deplorable acts of repudiation, managed through groups of vigilantes, all the abuses of power and the legal violations committed, keep Cuban citizens in a state of total defenselessness. The great irresponsibility and excessive ambition of those who now govern will lead our nation to an even greater debacle.

With this I mean not only to emphasize the complex situation in which we live, but to make clear my total commitment to the construction of a nation based on respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Cubans. It is impossible to remain indifferent before a power that systematically ignores the dignity of its citizens and its own laws, with total impunity. A power that orders its representatives to act as common criminals.

Those who have the reins of power in their hands also carry the major responsibility for the course of coming events. It is impossible to remain indifferent to the violations and abuse.

6 December 2013

Estado de Sats Presents “Notebooks for the Transition” in the Midst of a Police Operation

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 8.25.26 PMSaturday morning Estado de Sats presented the first issue of their magazine “Handbooks for the Transition” despite a political operation to prevent the audience from arriving; several activists were detained, Antonio Rodiles, director of the independent project, informed Diario de Cuba

According to Rodiles, Gabriel Barrenechea, a member of the magazine’s editorial board, and Andrés Pérez were besieged in their homes. Meanwhile, the artist Luis Trápaga was arrested on his way to the presentation, as was José Díaz Silva, who was beaten and held at least six hours.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 8.27.26 PMHowever, about 60 people managed to attend the event. Rodiles said that some participants were arrested by regime’s agents on leaving, to take copies of the magazine from them.

“Despite arrests, violations, pressures, we presented ‘Handbooks for the Transition.” SATS will continue because the desire for freedom us unstoppable,” insisted the director of the independent project.

The monthly magazine, in print and digital editions, “has as its objective to address different themes about the future transition to democracy on the Island, with authors from within and outside the country,” Rodiles told Diario de Cuba this week.

The first volume includes articles by Walfrido Lopez (The Internet in Cuba-US Relations), Emilio Morales (Remittances have become an engine of the Cuban economy), Juan Antonio Blanco (Civilizational and migration change), and Antonio Rodiles and Alexis Jardines (Notes for the transition), among others.

Future issues will address topics such as economic liberalization and legality.

“We must begin to discuss these issues openly. We need to debate them, without fear,” said Rodiles.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 8.28.08 PM

Diario de Cuba | 2 November 2013

Antonio Rodiles: Creating an Opposition Movement Within Cuba? / Ivan Garcia

Antonio-Rodiles-620x330Far from being an association of think tanks or elite academics, Estado de SATS (State of SATS) is a project which brings together the various political and civic points of view to be found within the tiny illegal world of Cuban dissidents.

At one of their gatherings a highly regarded opposition figure like Manuel Cuesta Morúa might offer a talk on racial issues, a panel of independent attorneys might discuss legal matters with the audience, or a rapper named Raudel might give an hour-and-a-half long concert.

Estado de SATS often serves as a point of cultural, social, political and even sports contact for Cuba’s opposition. The physicist and mathematician Antonio Enrique González-Rodiles Fernández (born 1972 in Havana) is its most visible face.

His home in Havana’s Miramar district, with its spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean, serves as the headquarters for Estado de SATS activities. Once an event is announced, the security services begin mobilizing. 

A surveillance camera has been placed very indiscreetly along one side of the house. Suzuki motorcycles — the sturdy type used by counter-intelligence agents — prowl the surrounding area. And not infrequently one or two dissidents are detained. Harassment has become part of the landscape.

On the evening of Thursday, October 11, Rodiles was screening El Súper, a classic 1978 Cuban exile film by Orlando Jiménez Leal and León Ichaso. It tells the story of a  family which has recently arrived in New York from the Caribbean.

Antonio Rodiles is perhaps Cuba’s most promising dissident by virtue of his extensive education as well as his formal manner of speaking and interacting with people. Dressed in a short-sleeve Prussian blue shirt and black slacks, and amid the din of houseguests and audio equipment, Rodiles spoke with me.

“The repression and harassment of Estado de SATS is cyclical,” he tells me. He mentions the detention of the former political prisoner José Díaz Silva and his wife, who is a member of the Ladies in White. Both were collecting signatures for Citizens’ Demand For Another Cuba. On the following day a Miami-based newspaper, Diario de Cuba, reported the couple had been released.

Demand For Another Cuba was launched in Havana in 2012. Among other things the petition publicly calls for a debate on the country’s dual currency system, the right of workers to a living wage, the right of all Cubans — no matter where they live — to launch financial projects in their own country and free [open] access to the internet.

Demand For Another Cuba also calls upon the regime to the ratify the United Nations’ Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which were signed by Cuba on February 28, 2008 in New York.

Rodiles is not optimistic. “I don’t believe the will is there to ratify them. It was a tactic meant to make a good impression in the eyes of the world. Remember that in 2008, when Barack Obama became president of the United States, the government of Raul Castro was trying to take on a reformist profile.”

Estado de SATS began operations in the summer of 2010. In the past three years arbitrary arrests and harassment by State Security have become routine. Last year Rodiles himself was detained for nineteen days in a foul-smelling jail cell in Havana’s Tenth of October district. 

“We have gone through some bad times,” he says. “There are cycles. It’s like a wave, with stages in which the level of repression is low and others when it spikes. It is a surgical kind of harassment. Repressing twenty opponents is not the same as having to repress ten thousand disgruntled people. Special services is trying to patch the wound before it occurs.”

A series of actions carried out by Estado de SATS in the private employment sector has raised alarms with some of those in charge of keeping tabs on them. Any attempts to build bridges with non-dissident groups often makes agents of the secret police very nervous.

Rodiles knows this. He is convinced of the necessity to build a more effective opposition movement within Cuba. Leaky pipes which waste fifty-eight percent of the country’s drinking water, the chaotic state of public transport, a low-quality educational system, and dilapidated hospitals affect Castro loyalists as well as opponents.

This is why Rodiles is trying to be more inclusive. “There are many ordinary Cubans among the 4,200 people who have signed the Demand For Another Cuba petition. Mismanagement by the state harms everyone, whatever that person’s ideology.”

I ask him how he sees himself in five years. Antonio Rodiles looks at the intense blue sea, which he can almost touch with his hand and answers, “I like politics. Economics too. It’s not that I am capable of giving up everything for politics, but I believe it is one path.”

Iván García

Photo: From “Cubans Are Losing Their Fear,” and interview published in ABC on September 20, 2013.

Further reading: The Opposition in Cuba: Calling Ourselves to Account

14 November 2013

The Opposition in Cuba: Calling Ourselves to Account / Antonio Rodiles

We are an active part of the transition

We are an active part of the transition

The result of the recent vote that gave Cuba a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, again puts into question the credibility of this institution, which has also given seats on the Council to countries such as China and Russia, constantly denounced for their lack of respect for fundamental human rights. China and Russia are two international powers that have to be considered on any international stage, so although questionable, there is a certain logic to their selection. Cuba, on the other hand, is a small bankrupt island without resources, but its regime has toiled intensely in the field of diplomacy for all these years, generating a network of influence and allies who respond only to their interests, ignoring any element of ethics.

After 54 years of almost total isolation, the Cuban opposition has had the opportunity to participate in international forums and to denounce the systematic violations of human rights on the island, as well as to express its needs for international solidarity and support. However, it is important to recognize that while our message has been heard with more volume and we have achieved greater prominence, we still have neither the strength nor the articulation to achieve a greater impact on international actors and organizations and, thus, to exercise more pressure on the totalitarian regime.

The reelection of Cuba to the Human Rights Council highlights the urgent need on the part of Cuban opposition groups — both inside and outside the island — to articulate more effective efforts at diplomacy in the international arena.

The Cuban opposition must begin to see itself as a political force, which means that it cannot simply be a source of complaints. This leap requires a drastic change that obliges us to analyze, deeply and honestly, our strengths and weaknesses.

One of our main shortcomings is the lack of professionalism and political vision, something we must begin to overcome despite living under the longest and most devastating dictatorship in the hemisphere. Without this projection, it will be impossible to reach broader sectors of society which, although tired of the outrages, sit on the sidelines waiting for more favorable scenarios that will permit them to express their political preferences and to identify themselves with a specific group.

The role of the exile should be very active as they are an essential part of the nation. Above all, the exile must open their senses to objectively perceive the reality in which we live on the island. Without a clear diagnosis and vision, and lacking an anchor in today’s reality, the result will be failure. The Cuba of 2013 is not even the Cuba of three years ago.

To maintain that a social explosion will lead us magically to democracy has been counterproductive for decades and diminishes the prominence and support for projects that could generate the dynamics for a democratic future for the nation.

The exile is fundamental for transmitting to us a vision of contemporary societies and encouraging our growth toward a modern and dynamic opposition. If, instead, it encourages complacency and conditional or manipulated support for specific groups that respond to sectarian interests or visions, we will then, to a large extent, continue to repeat the same stagnant pattern of the regime.

To generate false expectation with manipulated figures and unconvincing scenarios could be very damaging, not only for our internal dynamics, but for the credibility of the opposition movement abroad.

That someone should call themselves the spokesperson for the entire opposition, or promote a certain group as the most important or active, shows a political immaturity and only helps to generate friction and sterile competition. No one in Cuba today has the authority, nor the reach to the opposition, nor to society, to call themselves the spokesperson of the opposition. No group has the reach to proclaim themselves as the essential actor of change. Whoever sends such a signal, is simply wrong or lying.

Cuban society has begun to shake off a disastrous regime, but we find ourselves in a still emerging moment, which is never a sign of weakness. Many of the actors in the transition are about to appear, and it will be a great surprise when some Cubans who are currently on the border of the so-called “gray zone,” break out on the political scene and play more significant roles than many of us who today work from the opposition.

The opposition must go through a process of professionalization, reach a sharper sense of politics, and have the human capital capable of competing and projecting governance options distinct from the regime which has caused the national disaster, but which has all the means and power to transmute to an authoritarian capitalism.

The honest debate on fundamental issues cannot wait any longer, we must open an exchange from the civility that stimulates the growth of diverse ideas and visions of another Cuba that we want to construct. To remain silent for the sake of an archaic and hidebound vision of unity is too damaging. Any process of democratic maturity implies questioning political capabilities, legitimacy and effectiveness in thought and action, because many of the strategies offered as engines of change are nothing more than old desires, fantasies and fetishes.

The challenge today is for a new thinking to take hold among the Cuban opposition, a thinking born in the current century, within a world of networks with novel hierarchical and dynamic structures, where creativity, knowledge and information set the standard, leaving aside personalities and epics.

Those who do not recognize, within certain sectors of Cuban society — such as professionals, artists, intellectuals and activists — the principal actors of the changes, are simply dreaming within the same formula of a “triumphant Revolution” with thousands of citizens welcoming the coming of a new Messiah.

If we want concrete results, our reading of reality should be as accurate as possible. If we do not develop acuity and effectiveness in the field of politics, we will remain complainers.

The democratization of Cuba will cease to be a chimera when we systematically uproot the spaces of a power that insists on not thinking of us as political actors.

13 November 2013