Activists Arrested for Approaching the Pope on Hunger Strike / 14ymedio

Activists detained during the Mass of Pope Francisco in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. (Still from a video)

Activists detained during the Mass of Pope Francisco in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. (Still from a video)

14ymedio, 24 September 2015 — The three activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) arrested on Sunday during Pope Francis’s Mass Francisco in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana remain on hunger strike, according to a Thursday statement from UNPACU.
The regime opponents, who were arrested as they approached the Pope to denounce the situation of human rights in Cuba, are being held at the police station known as 100 y Aldabó in the capital.

“From the day of their arrest, Zacchaeus Baez, Maria Josefa Acón and Ismael Bonet have been on a hunger strike,” the statement says, adding: “As of yesterday the decided that it would also be a thirst strike.” The activists, according to the statement, “belong to the UNPACU Felix Varela Cell in Calabazar” and Ancon is also a member of the Ladies in White.

The opposition group has begun “a campaign in support of the three detainees,” according to its leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer. The first actions are aimed at “informing the public through disks and printed matter about the action in the Square.” The former political prisoner says that the organization is posting notices “on poles, walls and other sites with photos of the three and explanations of what they did.”

Under the theme of “The three who reached the Pope” UNPACU has also organized marches in the east of the country, in Camagüey, Havana and Pinar del Río. The statement warns that, “if they are not released, the next step in solidarity with the three could be a mass hunger strike in public places.”

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.”

The Ladies in White Live through Another Day of Repression / 14ymedio

The Ladies in White march through the streets of Havana Sunday (14ymedio)

The Ladies in White march through the streets of Havana Sunday (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 13 September 2015 – This Sunday, 42 Ladies in White, accompanied by 21 activists from different political groups, walked down Havana’s Fifth Avenue, in the Miramar neighborhood. Finishing their usual route and subsequent meeting in Gandhi Park, next to Santa Rita Parish, the group was arrested by police and other plain-clothes forces, according to reports to 14ymedio by several eyewitnesses.

Together with the women from the human rights movement were other opposition figures such as Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles from the opposition group Estado de Sats. The current whereabouts of those arrested is unknown, and their cell phones give the message “turned off or out of area.” However, the leader of UNPACU, Jose Daniel Ferrer, has been set free.

The Ladies in White had carried several banners demanding amnesty for political prisoners. A demand that has been the focus of attention for several opposition groups and that has gained strength before the upcoming visit by Pope Francis to the Island.

This week the Cuban government announced the pardon of 3,522 prisoners on the occasion of the Pontiff’s arrival in Cuba. Nevertheless, the opposition has criticized the fact that the list of pardoned prisoners does not include activists jailed for political reasons.

Elizardo Sanchez, who heads the National Human Rights and Reconciliation Commission, said in an interview with EFE that there are at least 60 people imprisoned “for political reasons or through politically conditioned proceedings.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

More Than A Hundred Activists Arrested, According UNPACU / 14ymedio

Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of UNPACU. (14ymedio)

Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of UNPACU. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 8 September 2015 — The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) denounced on Tuesday the arrest of at least 140 activists in the east of the country between members of the organization and the women’s group Citizens for Democracy. Among those arrested was Ovidio Martin Castellanos, member of the board of UNPACU, said Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the opposition group.

The arrests occurred when the activists tried to reach the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity, on the day of the celebrations for the patroness of Cuba. Localities with high numbers of detainees are Mella and Palmarito del Cauto. Some opponents had left their homes at night or Monday at dawn to reach the Mass in the church.

Several of the detainees, according to Ferrer, “were left in remote locations without transport at night.” Among them are the activists Belkis Castillo, Moralina Díaz, Maidolis Oribe, Keila Ramos and Belkis Marta Beatriz Ferrer. The women also reported violence during the arrests and the retention of their mobile phones.

Jose Daniel Ferrer Can Not Leave The Country For Reasons Of “Public Interest” / 14ymedio

Jose Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU leader. (14ymedio)

Jose Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU leader. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 August 2015 — The activist José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) has been informed this week by the Office of Immigration and Nationality that he can not leave the country. The authorities said that the travel restrictions are being imposed because he is not “in compliance with the criminal sanction” and there are “reasons of public interest” to prevent him from crossing the national borders.

The official response was communicated Wednesday, when Ferrer attempted to being the paperwork for a new passport at the identity card office in the Playa municipality in Havana. Continue reading

UNPACU Reports More Than A Hundred Activists Arrested / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 August 2015 — From the early hours of Sunday the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) denounced the arrest of more than 130 of its activists. Several sources within the organization told this newspaper that the detainees were going to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, in Santiago de Cuba, when they were intercepted.

Repression in the east of the country coincided with a major operation in Havana, around Fifth Avenue, a place where traditionally the Ladies in White march. The human rights activist movement reported an intense act of repudiation at the end of its weekly pilgrimage, along with arrests and police violence.

The march of the Ladies in White ended with about 40 women and 25 other activists detained and taken to police stations or detention centers. Mobs staged action against activists, markedly larger this Sunday, which was denounced by the leader of this movement, Berta Soler. Continue reading

The Other Flag / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana

Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 15 August 2015 — Six hours after the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes at the US embassy along the Malecon, a similar ceremony occurred on 150th Street in the Cubanacan neighborhood where the official residence of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, charge d’affaires of that country, is located.

All of the heads of the United States Interest Section have lived in this mansion in recent years, and there is a flagpole in its garden. Across from it, congregated hundreds of guests who did not physically fit in the small space where hours earlier American and Cuban officials had witnessed the symbolic act that opened the US embassy in Havana. Continue reading

“Paya Was An Example Of Dedication And Persistence” / 14ymedio

Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)

Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 July 2015 — Three years after the death of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, 14ymedio has collected the opinions of some Cuban activists who knew the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement. They is people who shared with him projects and risks, who admired or were inspired by his civic labor. Let these seven testimonies serve to approach the legacy of a man who devoted his best years to achieving greater rights and freedoms for the citizenry.

Father José Conrado

He has left us a testimony of life, a consistent life in service to his people, a courageous life that knew how to respond to the difficulties and the circumstances of the times. A life true to his convictions of faith and his love for his country until his last moment. It is a testimony that we will never forget and at the same time something to be deeply grateful for, because men like him are the ones who are needed, men like him are those who build a people from within.

Martha Beatriz Roque

It is very difficult to summarize in a few lines his life and the legacy he left us. First of all we have to note his actions as a father, a husband and a member of the Catholic Church. He knew how to pass on an excellent education for his children and to sow love in his family. Now we have Rosa María [his daughter], who is continuing his struggle and also persevering in seeing that justice is done for those who murdered him. His life’s companion, Ofelita, is doing the same thing.

Payá witnessed in favor of democracy and his legacy is reflected in the continuity of his work. These men who have acted with dignity in life, in times as difficult as those we Cubans have had to live through, one can say they have not died, they continue with us.

Jose Daniel Ferrer

I always had great respect and great affection for him, and joined in with the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) for many years, especially on Project Varela. I would like to highlight one way he is remembered in the eastern region, especially in the province of Santiago de Cuba. The term that we are referred to by, whether we are members of UNPACU, of CID, of the Republican Party, the Citizens for Democracy, or any other organization, is “Varelistas” [“supporters of Project Varela”], and not because of a direct relation to Felix Verala, who well deserves it for his contribution to Cuban nationality, but precisely because of Project Varela, which not only collected thousands of signatures at that time, but also left a lasting impact.

So that is what people call us there and, on occasion, even our worst enemies do. So every time they call us Varelistas, they are remembering Payá.

Dagoberto Valdes

The first thing I want to point out about the legacy Oswaldo left us is the integrity of one person who throughout his life remained consistent with what he thought and believed. Secondly, he left us what in my view is the most important civic exercise of the last decades: the Varela Project. Third, he left us the perseverance of a man who believed in the cause of freedom and democracy for Cuba and who dedicated his entire life to it.

Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart

His legacy goes far beyond even the Christian Liberation Movement he founded. His precious heritage belongs to Cuba and is found in the shared yearning for democracy and respect for human rights, for all individuals who think as he thought. For this he will always be respected. When Cuba can enjoy democracy, he will not be with is, but his teachings will be.

Felix Navarro Rodriguez

He was a great leader in the peaceful Cuban opposition because he accomplished what no one had been able to accomplish, which was to collect those thousands of signatures supporting Project Varela and doing it within the very laws of Cuba.

Still today I feel I see him, with the enthusiasm that characterized him, seeking unity among Cubans so that we can manage the change in a peaceful way, so that the people would be the owners of their own opinions and be able to put their rights into practice. It fills us with great satisfaction to have been able to be at the side of a man like him at those moments before the Black Spring of 2003, and to continue working with his daughter Rosa María today.

Miriam Leyva

He was a very self-sacrificing person who was characterized by believing in what he was doing. He was convinced that he could fight for a better life for Cubans to achieve progress and democracy for Cuba. He was a practicing Catholic and also a tireless worker. In his specialty, medical equipment repair, he was acknowledged and respected, not only in his workplace but in all public health facilities where he went to provide services.

Payá was an example of self-sacrifice and above all persistence, so his legacy extends beyond the MCL and Project Varela; an example as a human being, as a Cuban. That is what remains in my memory and I appreciate all the years I knew him in the midst of such difficult situations.

“Recognizing changes does not mean we go along” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

José Daniel Ferrer, Felix Navarro, Hector Maseda, Jorge Olivera and Librado Linares

José Daniel Ferrer, Felix Navarro, Hector Maseda, Jorge Olivera and Librado Linares

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, 19 March 2015 — Twelve years after the Black Spring, 14ymedio chats with some of the former political prisoners currently living on the Island. Two questions have been posed to those activists condemned in March 2003: one about their decision to stay in Cuba, and the other about how they see the country today.

José Daniel Ferrer

The whole time we were in prison, the Castro brothers’ regime did its best to pressure us, to force us to abandon the country. A few of us decided to say no, regardless of the circumstances. Today I am more convinced than ever that my having stayed is worth it. We are doing our modest bit to have a nation where there will never again be something like that spring of 2003, when so many compatriots paid with prison for attempting to exercise their most sacred rights.

“Today I am more convinced than ever that my having stayed is worth it”

Many things have changed, but they still maintain the repression, and sometimes increase it, against human rights activists and also against the people. Recognizing the changes doesn’t mean we go along, because what we don’t have is a prosperous and democratic Cuba. In the last days when I walked freely on the street, at the beginning of 2003, some people approached us and whispered in our ears, “I heard you,” referring to having heard us on some station like Radio Martí, one of the few media where they could learn about what the pro-democracy forces were doing.

Felix Navarro

Having stayed in Cuba after leaving prison is probably the best idea I’ve had in my entire life. Continue reading

More Than a Hundred Activists Arrested in Santiago de Cuba / 14ymedio

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of UNPACU (14ymedio)

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of UNPACU (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Santiago de Cuba, 15 March 2015 — On Sunday morning over one hundred activists, mostly belonging to the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and Citizens for Democracy (CxD), were arrested while trying to reach the Sanctuary of Cobre. Among those arrested was Jose Daniel Ferrer, executive secretary of the UNPACU and former prisoner of the Group of 75.

José Daniel Ferrer told 14ymedio that since last Friday organization members started moving towards the Sanctuary of Cobre, so the political police mobilized Continue reading

“Our actions can make people lose their fears” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar and Jose Daniel Ferrer

José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)

José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 January 2015 — Few could imagine that this activist, born in the east of the country and leader of Cuba’s most numerous opposition organization, is also a compulsive reader and an avid collector of famous quotes. Conversing with José Daniel Ferrer is like a trip that starts with a pamphlet cast in the streets of Palmarito del Cauto, then jumps to the best texts about the French Revolution, and ends in the pages of some modern psychological treatise.

Yet, the biggest pleasure of speaking to a man like him is to see him behave as if he were free, despite the police surveillance and the years he has spent in prison. During a quick visit to Havana, Ferrer answered some questions for the readers of 14ymedio about the current situation of activism in Cuba and the new stage that is opening up for dissidents.

Escobar: How does the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) view the negotiations between Washington and Havana?

Ferrer: This process, which started after 18 months of secret talks, will be very positive in bettering the difficult life conditions of our people. However, the final result will best be appreciated as the announced relaxation of policies is implemented and also in the way that it is put in practice. If it is applied in an intelligent manner and is consistently complemented by solidarity and support to the independent civil society, it will yield better results than the prior policies. Continue reading

Humanitarian proposal from the Human Rights Commission / 14ymedio

José Daniel Ferrer, Elizardo Sanchez and Hector Maseda at the news conference. (14ymedio)

José Daniel Ferrer, Elizardo Sanchez and Hector Maseda at the news conference. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, 23 January 2015 — The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) convened a press conference at its headquarters to unveil an initiative to release, on humanitarian grounds, a total of 24 prisoners who have spent more than 12 years in Cuban prisons.

Presenting were Elizardo Sanchez, Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and Hector Maseda, president of the Liberal Party of Cuba, who also promoted the Four Points of Consensus of the Cuban Civil Society, ratified and updated last December 22 in a meeting of the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum.

One of the aspects most discussed today among the internal dissidence on the Island, is the issue of who should be on the list of possible prisoners to be released. Debated is whether there should appear, among those who should receive this benefit, those accused of acts of terrorism, hijacking of planes, or other armed actions.

The group proposed by the CCDHRN includes people incarcerated for similar reasons, but it is argued that they are one the list for humanitarian reasons, which does not justify the acts committed.

US Congressional delegation meets with Cuban activists and independent journalists /14ymedio

Patrick Leahy, Debbie Stabenow, Chris Van Hollen and Sheldon Whitehouse entering their hotel in Havana. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

Patrick Leahy, Debbie Stabenow, Chris Van Hollen and Sheldon Whitehouse entering their hotel in Havana. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio, Havana, 19 January 2015 — On Sunday afternoon a dozen activists and representatives of Cuban civil society met with the American congressional delegation visiting Cuba. Chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy, the group was able hear diverse opinions in response to the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between the two countries.

A member of the delegation confirmed that the Cuban authorities were aware of the meeting with the activists and had made known to the American side their displeasure with the meeting.

In a relaxed atmosphere, several of those present expressed the conviction that “this opens a new era” and demanded greater transparency in negotiations, according to what they themselves reported after the meeting. Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, gave lawmakers a list with the names of 24 prisoners who, on humanitarian grounds, should be included in an upcoming release process. Continue reading

The Political Legacy of Oswaldo Paya / 14ymedio

Oswaldo Payá's Funeral (Luz Escobar)

Oswaldo Payá’s Funeral (Luz Escobar)

14YMEDIO, 22 July 2014 – On 22 July 2014, the opposition leader Oswaldo Payá and the activist Harld Cepero died. Payá led the Christian Liberation Movement and promoted the Varela Project, which managed to collect some 25,000 signatures to demand a national referendum. Freedom of expression, of association, freedom of the press and of business, as well as free elections, were some of the demands of that document signed by thousands of Cubans.

Nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize, Payá was one of the most visible and respected figures of the Cuban opposition. In 2002  the European Parliament awarded him the Sakharov Prize for Human Rights by and he was able to tour several countries to offer information about the situation on the island. He was also an official candidate for the Prince of Asturias Award and received honorary degrees from Columbia University and the University of Miami.

Paya’s death occurred in the vicinity of the city of Bayamo, while he was traveling accompanied by the Spaniard Angel Carromero, the Swede Aron Modig, and his colleague Harold Cepero. The Cuban government explained the death as the result of a car accident, but his family and many Cuban activists have maintained their doubts about that version. An independent investigation into the events of that tragic July 22 has been requested in various international forums, but Cuban authorities have not responded to those requests.

On the second anniversary of the death of Oswaldo Payá, we asked activists who shared his democratic ideals, “What is the greatest legacy of the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement?”

Guillermo Fariñas, a psychologist and the winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize

The main legacy left by Oswaldo Payá Sardinas for the Cuban nation, beyond its geographical boundaries, was that he showed his people and the world that the Cuban government breaks its own laws. When the Varela Project submitted almost 25,000 signatures to the People’s Assembly on a citizens’ petition for a plebiscite, the Cuban government refused to hold one and in a crude way changed the Constitution. That in my opinion was his main contribution: demonstrating that the Cuban government is beyond anything that could be construed as the Rule of Law and that it does not even respect its own draconian laws that support Castro’s totalitarian state. Continue reading