Lady in White Berta Soler Threatened With Prison / 14ymedio

Berta Soler at the Havana airport. (File / 14ymedio)
Berta Soler at the Havana airport. (File / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 May 2016 — Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, faces a prison sentence of three months to five years for the alleged crime of resistance. The activist was arrested last Sunday when she attempted to go to the Cathedral of Havana for the inauguration of the new archbishop of the capital. After being charged by the authorities, she is required to available to them at all times and cannot leave Cuba before her trial. “I didn’t become an opponent [of the regime] in order to travel and I am prepared to go to prison if that is the decision. I won’t even get a lawyer,” Soler told 14ymedio.

The group of 31 activists, among them 22 Ladies in White, was intercepted on leaving the Ladies in White’s headquarters in the Lawton neighborhood. The repudiation rally against them before the Sunday Mass was organized for 9 in the morning and involved many people who were not even from the neighborhood. “Although we already knew we wouldn’t be able to get there,” Berta Soler said, “we decided to leave [for the church] because our house is not a jail cell.” As commonly occurs, tempers flared and finally the police arrived to arrest them.

“When they stopped us we sat down, which is a common practice in peace movements around the world, except in Cuba,” Soler emphasized.

Berta Soler was driven to the Alamar neighborhood where, she said, there was “a classroom reserved by the PNR (People’s Revolutionary Police).” At about six or seven in the evening they told her that this time there would be formal charges. “At first they said that I had scratched a policewoman, but eventually they dismissed the charge of attack,” she said.

That night an official who said she was the investigator/prosecutor on her case told her that she was accused of resistance. “I didn’t respond in any way and went to sleep. At a quarter to ten at night they came to find me to sign the accusation but I didn’t sign any document. We (and they as well) have videos that show I never lifted a hand to anyone or attack anyone, not even verbally.”

Berta Soler says she has no problem complying with the requirement that she not leave the country. “At the moment I have no plans for any trip. The closest is an idea to go to Geneva, but that still has not materialized. If before [the trial], or at any time I need to leave the country for some event, they will have to stop me from traveling at the airport itself,” she said.

The date of her trial has not been set.

Rights Commission Counts 1,380 Political Arrests in Cuba in April / 14ymedio

A police operation outside the home of a regime opponent. (Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca)
A police operation outside the home of a regime opponent. (Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 May 2016 – A report released on Tuesday by the Cuban National Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) announced that during the April there were “at least 1,380 arbitrary arrests for political reasons” in Cuba. A situation that “confirms the ultra repressive policy adopted at the highest level of the government of the island,” says the document.

The independent entity questioned the attitude of the authorities which is “aimed at trying to silence dissenting voices and any form of peaceful public demonstrations of discontent.” In the introduction to the report an estimate for politically motivated arrests during the first four months of the year is provided: “At least 5.351.” continue reading

The CCDHRN comments on “the inability to quality the acts of repression and the climate of intimidation against all society, a victim, also, of massive campaigns of disinformation and diversionary propaganda.” A situation that keeps the Cuban people “in a state of complete defenselessness and hopelessness” it says.

On 25 April, the CCDHRN published its most recent partial list of prisoners currently incarcerated for political reasons, which included the names of 82 Cubans imprisoned for so-called “crimes against the state.” However, in the report released Tuesday, it is reported that a few days later that figure “had increased with four other women,” members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) found in “provisional detention.”

The four activists added to the list are Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda, Yunet Cairo Reigada, Yaquelin Heredia Morales and Marieta Martínez Aguilera.

Two of them “are also members of the harshly repressed Ladies in White movement,” says the text.

The CCDHRN submitted a request for opposition detainees to receive an “international recognition as prisoners of conscience.” A request that will extend also to “at least 20 peaceful political prisoners.”

The Commission, chaired by dissident Elizardo Sanchez, will continue demanding the “release, for purely humanitarian reasons, of 22 other prisoners classified as counterrevolutionary who have been in the Castro regime’s prisons for between 24 and 13 years.” The text details that these prisoners are being held “under inhuman and degrading conditions.”

Dissidents Call Meeting With Obama Positive And Give Him A List Of Political Prisoners / EFE, 14ymedio

Barack Obama meeting with dissidents in Havana on Tuesday. (14ymedio)
Barack Obama meeting with dissidents in Havana on Tuesday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 22 March 2016 – Several dissidents who met with President Barack Obama in Havana this Tuesday, assessed the meeting as “positive” and “frank,” and one of them delivered a list of 89 political prisoners recorded by the group he leads.

Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), said Obama was “very clear” and reiterated to the participants at the meeting “his commitment to the cause of human rights and democratic freedoms.”

Sanchez explained that during the dialogue with the US president, he handed him a copy of the list of 89 political prisoners prepared by his group, continue reading

the only one that undertakes an ongoing documentation of these cases in Cuba.

For veteran government opponent, the balance of Obama’s visit to the island was “favorable to the cause of bilateral democracy” but he lamented that far from encouraging an “atmosphere of calm” the Cuban government unleashed “a wave of political repression” which, according to the records of his group translates to between 450 and 500 arrests across the island between Saturday and today.

For his part, the former political prisoner of the 2003 Black Spring “Group of 75,” Jose Daniel Ferrer, one of the thirteen government opponents invited to the meeting, described as “very positive” the meeting because “it was a show of solidarity with those of us who are fighting for the reconstruction of the nation.

“We talked about the process initiated with the Cuban government to normalize bilateral relations, also about his visit, and we also had the opportunity to make suggestions and give opinions on issues that we believe should continue to be pursued and what should not be done in this case,” said Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

Miriam Leiva, also invited to the event, considered it “very open” because the president listened to the participants who “could express their views on the current situation of repression and human rights in Cuba” and also he made comments.

“There were some who raised positions contrary to the policies of President Obama, but in the end he expounded on his views about what he is doing and what he can do to benefit the Cuban people,” said the independent journalist.

In her opinion, the fact that Barack Obama set aside a space in his busy schedule of about 48 hours in Havana for this meeting at the US embassy, ​​represented “recognition and support” for the Cuban opposition.

Antonio González-Rodiles, who heads the Independent Estado de Sats (State of Sats) project, said the meeting was “very frank” and led to a debate in which “everyone raised their point of view and President Obama heard the different positions.”

Rodiles, critical of the new US approach to Cuba, said he told Obama his doubts about the process of normalization of relations and the “enormous level of violence and repression” in recent times.

He also criticized that “we have not heard from their government a clear condemnation regarding these excessive violations against the dissidence.”

Also at the meeting dissidents and activists such as the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler; Guillermo Fariñas; Manuel Cuesta Morua, of the Progressive Arc; and the critical intellectual Dagoberto Valdes.

In brief remarks to reporters about the meeting, Obama said that one of the objectives of the normalization begun with Cuba is to be able to “hear directly” from the Cuban people and ensure that they also “have a voice” in the new stage initiated between the two countries fifteen months ago.

Note: Cuban dissidents, independent journalists and human rights activists present at the meeting were: Angel Yunier Remon, Antonio Rodiles, Juana Mora Cedeno, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Laritza Diversent, Berta Soler, Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez, Guillermo Fariñas, Nelson Alvarez Matute, Miriam Celaya Gonzales, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Miriam Leiva Viamonte, Elizardo Sanchez.

Obama Praises The Courage Of Dissidents In An Unprecedented Meeting / EFE, 14ymedio

US President Barack Obama meets with representatives of Cuban independent civil society in Havana (14ymedio)
US President Barack Obama meets with representatives of Cuban independent civil society in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 22 March 2016 — The president of the United States, Barack Obama, praised the “courage” of the dissidents and representatives of independent civil society Cuba at the beginning of the meeting held with them at the headquarters of the United States Embassy in Havana this Tuesday.

In brief remarks, Obama stressed that one of the objectives of normalization with Cuba is to be able to “hear directly” from the Cuban people and to ensure that they also “have a voice” in the new stage initiated between the two countries.

The meeting with president of the United States was attended by Berta Soler (Ladies in White), Miriam Celaya (activist and freelance journalist), Manuel Cuesta Morua (Progressive Arc), Miriam Leiva (freelance journalist), Guillermo Fariñas (former political prisoner and 2010 Sakharov Human Rights Prize recipient), Antonio G. Rodiles (State of SATS), Elizardo Sánchez (Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation), Nelson Matute (Afro-ACLU president, defense organization for black people discriminated against because of their sexual orientation), Laritza Diversent (Cubalex), Dagoberto Valdes (Coexistence ), Jose Daniel Ferrer (UNPACU), Yunier Angel Remon (rapper The Critic ) and Juana Mora Cedeño (Rainbow Project).

“It often requires great courage to be active in civil life here in Cuba,” Obama said, adding he said.

“There are people here who have been arrested. Some in the past and others very recently,” stressed the president.

On Monday, at least a dozen dissidents were arrested in Cuba, according to the dissident Cuban National Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), which also counts nearly 90 political prisoners on the island.

Participating in the meeting with Obama were government opponents who support the new US policy toward the island, as is the case of Cuesta Morua, and others who criticize it, as is the case with Berta Soler of the Ladies in White.

Cuban Human Rights Group Reports 12 New Arrests Of Dissidents / EFE, 14ymedio

Cuban activists marching in Havana hours before the arrival of President Barack Obama. (@Jangelmoya/Twitter)
Cuban activists marching in Havana hours before the arrival of President Barack Obama “Obama traveling to Cuba is not entertainment. No more violations of Human Rights. We All March”. (@Jangelmoya/Twitter)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 21 March 2016 – At least a dozen government opponents were arrested this Monday in Cuba, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), which also identifies nearly 90 political prisoners on the island.

Among those arrested for the second day are the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, and some members of that women’s group, along with her husband, former political prisoner Angel Moya, according to Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the CCDHRN, the only group regularly documenting such incidents in Cuba.

Also on Monday the arrest of Antonio González-Rodiles, who heads the independent Estado de Sats (State of Sats) project, along with his partner, activist Ailer González, near continue reading

their home, a family source confirmed.

Elizardo Sanchez said his group is trying to specify the number of arrests on the island since Sunday, when US president, Barack Obama arrived in Cuba.

That same day, some 60 dissidents were arrested several hours after the Ladies in White’s habitual Sunday march.

With regards to the number of political prisoners in Cuba, Sanchez said he currently has in his record to 77 prisoners convicted for political reasons plus one who is serving a sentence of house arrest.

He explained that that group adds the 11 released under a “furlough,” a legal concept that does not annul the sentences imposed during the crackdown of the “Black Spring” of 2003 that led to the jailing 75 dissidents on the island.

Cuban President Raul Castro denied on Monday that there are political prisoners in the country, in the press conference he gave in Havana with President Obama.

Castro challenged a journalist to present a list of political prisoners and assured him that if they really existed they would be freed that very night.

“Give me the list of political prisoners to release them now,” Castro said in answering the reporter’s question.

Ladies in White and Opponents Arrested After Sunday March in Havana / EFE, 14ymedio

Cuban activists marching in Havana hours before the arrival of President Barack Obama. (@Jangelmoya/Twitter)
Cuban activists marching in Havana hours before the arrival of President Barack Obama. (@Jangelmoya/Twitter)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 20 March 2016 – Some fifty Ladies in White and other opposition members such as the graffiti artist El Sexto and Antonio Gonzales Rodlies were arrested in Havana today after the usual Sunday march of the female dissident group, which was answered with a counter-repudiation-demonstration by government supporters.

At the end of the usual peaceful march after Mass at Havana’s Santa Rita Church, the Ladies in White tried to walk to other streets away from their route, where the ruling party had concentrated groups linked to the government which began to jeer at them.

The incident, which with varying intensity has been repeated every Sunday for 46 weeks, took place a few hours before the arrival on the Island of the president of the United States, Barack Obama, who during his historic visit continue reading

will meet with members of the dissidence.

The Ladies in White along with a group of dissidents and activists from other opposition organizations gathered under the platform #TodosMarchamos (We All March) and walked some hundred yards carrying a banner with the inscription, “Obama, coming to Cuba is not entertainment. No more human rights violations,” and threw copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on reaching a side street.

At that point they encountered the counter-demonstration of several hundred government sympathizers carrying signs reading “#We All March for a prosperous and sustainable socialism,” and “#We All March for Cuba,” and shouting “Fidel, Fidel” in reference to the Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Other male activists who accompanied the Ladies in White were handcuffed and put into police cars.

Even after the arrests, the pro-government group of protesters continued in the area and circled the block dancing to a popular conga headed by a contingent from the University Students Federation (FEU).

Previously, the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, told EFE that her group calls on President Obama during his visit to send “a clear message of support to the people of Cuba, given that the United States has always wanted good things and democracy for the island.”

“We also want to demand that the Cuban government immediately release all political prisoners, enact a general amnesty and to stop police violence,” added Soler.

Soler said that if she can talk with President Obama in Havana, she will him that “nothing has changed here nor is it going to change, he has come to a Cuba that is repressed and he will leave a Cuba that is repressed.”

The first visit by a president of the United States in the last 88 years will begin today with the arrival of Barack Obama, who in announcing his trip said one of its purposes was to influence the situation of human rights on the island, at a time when the dissidence has denounced an increase in repression.

Laura Pollán Ladies in White Civic Movement Letter to President Obama

Laura Labrada Pollán, Laura Pollán's daughter
Laura Labrada Pollán, Laura Pollán’s daughter

10 March 2016

His Excellency Mr. Barack Obama
President of the United States of America

I extend to you the most cordial welcome to our country and wish you a happy stay in this land, which you can now feel as your own.

Cuba and the United States of America share a long history of friendship which has not been erased throughout more than 57 years of dictatorship in my country. It is time now that our citizens to meet at the middle of the bridge, and what they feel cannot be separated by any government or group. continue reading

We, as members of the Laura Pollán Ladies in White Civic Movement, an NGO dedicated to the liberation of political prisoners and aid to our people in general, thank you for the courage you have shown in changing an approach that has not been effective for more than five decades in transforming the current state of affairs in my country. The dictatorship gains strength from confrontation, and not from negotiation and compromise.

Our nation needs a change. Civil society has been growing, stimulated by so many decades of hardships and attempts to destroy it. You can do much for our people. Empowering our population is among the first steps to achieve several of our objectives: freedom of expression, of the press, a multi-party system, and a dignified future for our children.

We know that it is still too soon to appreciate the results of these policy changes, but we are confident that subsequent US administrations will know how to build upon this first rock that you bravely dedicated to the liberty of our people. Cuba is grateful for it, and needs it.

We believe in your sincerity when you say that your efforts are to empower our civil society and not to support a government that has visited great afflictions on its populace. The politics of compromise is vital to achieve peaceful and lasting changes, as you said on 17 December 2014. Perhaps you have been able, as none of your predecessors, to convince the Cuban government that it is time for a change.

My mother, Laura Pollán, who died under circumstances that lead to suspicions she was assassinated, was always very clear about the role her government, as well as others of the free world, would play in the changes that necessarily needed to come. For her labor in defense of the rights of Cubans and the promotion of democracy, she was honored, during your administration, by the National Endowment for Democracy.

We hope that during this very short visit you will plan on the possibility of hearing from the lips of our people and our civil society the reality that we live in Cuba. We would like for you to meet with us as part of that opposition with which you said you would consult during your visit. From our women you will hear firsthand all that is happening in our nation, and the sentiments of the Cuban woman who, like Michelle, love freedom.

When you depart from our country on 22 March, I assure you that you will carry Cuba in your heart, and you will hold in your hand one of your greatest achievements.

You will know how to represent the free world, and you will be the voice for those of us who cannot speak.

Laura María Labrada Pollán
Laura Pollán Ladies in White Civic Movement

Source: Along the Malecon (Tracey Eaton)

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuban Dissidents in Western Democrats’ Selfies / Iván García

After leaving mass at St. Rita of Casia Church in Miramar, members of the Ladies in White gather a few meters from the church at Ghandi Park under a banner that reads, "TodosMarchamos" (We All March). The have been coming here for more than forty-four consecutive Sundays and their peaceful protests almost always end in assaults and arrests. From the New York Times.
After leaving mass at St. Rita of Casia Church in Miramar, members of the Ladies in White gather a few meters from the church at Ghandi Park under a banner that reads, “TodosMarchamos” (We All March). The have been coming here for more than forty-four consecutive Sundays and their peaceful protests almost always end in assaults and arrests. From the New York Times.

Ivan Garcia, 7 March 2016 — Between repression by the regime and the disdain of democratic governments, peaceful opposition in Cuba is paying too high a price for its shortcomings and lack of popular support. But let us not forget that they are victims, not the ones responsible for our national disaster.

The best screenwriters are undeniably good at turning villains into saints and can very discretely upend the ethical values of their readers and viewers.

Even those who never run a red light are pained to see criminals like Vito Corleone in The Godfather or Pablo Escobar in a Colombian mini-series caught and crushed by law enforcement. continue reading

The moral reversal that leads an audience to applaud when a bank robber escapes with the money in a Hollywood film is applicable to political dramas as well.

I find it hard to believe that François Hollande or Barack Obama, presidents of stable democracies, are thrilled at the prospect of sitting down with a consummate autocrat like Raul Castro.

The government of the Castro brothers has all the ingredients of a true dictatorship. Cuba is the only country in the concert of western nations that outlaws independent political parties and non-governmental media outlets.

Let’s get serious. While economic strain will always be better than sanctions, one cannot ignore certain basic truths. Cuba is no El Dorado when it comes to business. The country lacks an independent judiciary and a regulatory framework, essential elements for local entrepreneurs. The domestic market is also small and has limited purchasing power.

The game plan could be a bit more subtle. The goal of this political chess match is to dismantle the Castro’s economic and ideological madhouse with a high-profile strategy.

But leaders of democratic countries should not sidestep Cuba’s opposition figures, much less take selfies with them in back rooms just to appear politically correct.

The Castros are not the movie’s good guys. They are part of an entrenched gang that confuses democracy with personal loyalty. The failure of the revolution, the inefficiency of the system and material hardships were not caused by the opposition, none of whom hold any official positions.

I understand that one must negotiate with those in power. And the Castros have almost absolute control in Cuba. But not listening with your own ears to those who are being repressed is a huge political blunder for those who present themselves as democrats.

And that is what is happening. Since the restoration of diplomatic relations on December 17, numerous important American politicians and officials have visited Havana. Very few of them, however, have met with any dissidents or, if they have, they have spoken only with that segment of the opposition that approves of change.

They have always been last minute meetings involving coffee and ambiguous speeches. They end with an official looking at his watch, then quickly saying goodbye lest he miss his flight. This pattern could be observed on August 14, 2015 after the opening of the US embassy in Cuba.

The Department of State has not extended invitations to any dissidents or independent journalists. The one previous meeting was brief. When it was time for the batboys to gather up the equipment and photos were being taken — Cuban dissidents love to have their pictures taken — the talk turned to trivial issues.

It is not known if Barack Obama or the American embassy has scheduled any meetings with opposition figures or independent journalists during the upcoming presidential visit, scheduled for March 21 and 22.

The Cuban dissident movement is not a virtuous wasteland. Quite the opposite. Though marginalized, beaten and censured, its members continue to pound their fist on the table with authority. They do not, however, have an effective strategy for attracting followers from the ranks of ordinary Cubans.

They walk through the streets as though invisible. Their lobbying efforts are directed overseas. They have not been able to engage or enlist their neighbors to their cause. And communitarian, political initiatives such as Candidates for Change, an effort to promote democracy through participation in parliamentary elections, is looked down upon by some dissident leaders.

Is there disagreement? Yes, there is. A reasonable approach in such a contentious situation would be to come up with a common platform in which various groups or factions can agree on at most three or four common points.

This was the approach tried in 1996 by the Cuban Council and more recently in Venezuela by the Unity Roundtable for Democratic Action. But the towering egos of the dissidents always gets in the way of their good intentions.

Are they receiving money from US government foundations? Certainly. Engaging in political acitivism takes money. The strategy should be one of transparency, democracy within organizations and accountability.

Purists might see this as interference by a foreign government in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. But I would assure them that not one cent has been spent on the purchase of arms, the preparation of Molotov cocktails or for drafting a plan to assault a military barracks, as Fidel Castro did on July26, 1953.

The funds that the US government gives to dissident groups are public expenditures. The bulk of the money is spent on bureaucracy or goes into the pockets of those in Florida who have turned anti-Castroism into an industry.

It is also certainly true that there are and have been dissidents in Cuba who appropriate what is not theirs. Shortages, a lack of civic mindedness or lack of self-control have led some to act like tribal chieftains.

But you cannot put everyone in the same boat. Corruption and a lack of transparency are even worse in the regime. A dissident is not divorced from the reality in which he lives.

If they behave like a Fidel Castro in civilian clothes, it is because they were born and grew up in a country led by military strongmen. Both dissidents and government officials wear guayaberas. They do not know how to take advantage of new tools like the internet, their speech is filled with jargon and they do not know the value of smiling for the cameras.

The shortcomings of Castro officials are replicated in their antagonists. But there is one notable difference: peaceful opponents endure physical assaults, arrests and acts of repudiation.

Democrats from western countries would be acting consistently with their own teachings if they listened to the frustrations of the opposition. It would be a good way to avoid betraying themselves. Politics is the art of the possible.

Ivan Garcia

Marti Noticias, March 3, 2016

 

Obama Advisor Ben Rhodes Meets With Cuban Activists In Miami, During A “Historic” Meeting / 14ymedio, Marion Penton

 President Barack Obama’s key advisor on Cuba policy, Ben Rhodes, during his meeting with representatives of civil society on the island. (14ymedio)
President Barack Obama’s key advisor on Cuba policy, Ben Rhodes, during his meeting with representatives of civil society on the island. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 11 March 2016 – President Obama’s top advisor on US policy toward Cuba, Ben Rhodes, met this Friday with representatives from the island’s Civil Society and exile organizations. The meeting took place in Miami, concluding with a chat with Cuban-Americans that the official held at Miami Dade College.

The purpose of the meeting, which lasted several hours behind closed doors, was for Rhodes to listen to the aspirations and opinions of those groups in advance of President Obama’s visit to the island. Several of those attending agreed that the meeting was an “historic moment.” continue reading

Remberto Perez, vice president of the Cuban National Foundation (CANF) in New Jersey, explained that everyone expressed their points of view regarding the national reality before the US president’s visit. “It is a unique and extraordinary opportunity. The fact that we are doing this is a sign that the work of the internal and exiled dissidence has borne fruit,” he said.

Opposition member Martha Beatriz Roque, a member of the Black Spring’s Group of 75, confirmed that she will not meet with the US president, as speculated in some media. “It is not necessary that Obama receive me because I have been able to express my concerns to Ben Rhodes,” and she added, “I am super satisfied with this meeting,” said the dissident, who will not be on the island during the president’s visit because she is going to be traveling to Spain.

Leticia Ramos, a representative of the Ladies in White from Matanzas province, announced that Obama sent a letter to the organization and expressed his desire to meet with them in Havana. “So far we have high expectations and the president has informed us that he wants to meet with us,” said Ramos. Although she said they are “facing an uncertainty” because “the regime is going to prevent it at all costs” and “the arbitrary arrests will be massive to avoid this meeting.”

The Ladies in White have let Rhodes know that the visit should be directed “truly by the Cuban people” and he should try to ensure that “his speech reaches ordinary Cubans.” Initially, the position of the Ladies in White had been very critical of Obama’s visit to the island. With regards to the letter sent by the president, no details are available because “it was sent sealed” to Berta Soler, the representative of the organization.

The youngest activist at the meeting, Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, national coordinator of the Youth Front of the Patriotic Union of Cuban (UNPACU), told this newspaper that “the meeting surprised all of us in the most positive way,” because “we thought we would be coming to explain to Obama’s advisor the reality of the Cuban people, but to our surprise he knows it very well.”

Oliva Torres agrees with the rest of those present that it was an “historic” meeting and, in his opinion, “there was very good communication, great harmony between our approaches and his responses.”

“We are all demanding the same thing: we want the American president to go to Cuba and direct his discourse to the people of Cuba, not to the government,” said the UNPACU member.

The meeting was moderated by Jorge Mas Santos, president of the CANF, who praised the attitude of “these brave men and women (…) who keep alive the flame of hope on the island.” The Cuban-American extended his appreciation to the White House and stressed that meetings like this show that “beyond the Straits of Florida that separate us, we are one people.”

Mas Santos said that “President Obama’s advisor was able to listen to you directly, your dreams, your aspirations, the totalitarian nature of a regime that has oppressed our island for more than five decades, and through your suggested this liberating message can reach the mouth of President Obama on his visit to Cuba.”

‘El Sexto’ Exhibits the Pigs That Sent Him to Jail in Cuba / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

'Raul' and 'Fidel', the pigs from the performance art piece banned in Cuba, were paraded through the Market Gallery in Miami on Thursday. (14ymedio)
‘Raul’ and ‘Fidel’, the pigs from the performance art piece banned in Cuba, were paraded through the Market Gallery in Miami on Thursday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 February 2016 – Last night in Miami Danilo Maldonado (known as ‘El Sexto’, The Sixth), was able to show off the pigs Raul and Fidel, which cost him ten months in prison in Cuba. The opening of the exhibition “Pork,” at the Market Gallery in Miami Beach this Thursday, included the performance art piece banned in Cuba at the end of 2014, in which the two pigs walked peacefully around in an area restricted for their display, while a crowd gathered around and flashes lit up the pigs, who now and then appeared to pose.

El Sexto is an artist of freedom. At times irreverent and iconoclastic, but decidedly sensitive and intuitive. “The only way to find freedom is to go out and get it. I am still looking for it, but only this search is what frees you from a state of repression,” he told 14ymedio while preparing for the opening of his first exposition in the United States.

Enlivened by the well-known and controversial band Porno Para Ricardo, the event welcomed hundreds of participants, especially young Cuban Americans, and was a showcase for the work of the artist imprisoned for his performance art piece in Havana’s Central Park, inspired by Orwell, that never saw the light of day until last night in Miami. Since then, the image of the two pigs painted olive-green with the names of Fidel and Raul on their sides, accompany El Sexto wherever he goes. continue reading

“For me, the pig chosen by Orwell was the closest thing to the characters I wanted to represent. But in addition, it is the only thing left to us, there is no fish, no chicken… all there is is pork,” he said, to explain his choice.

Maldonado began his artist work painting graffiti on the walls of Havana which he signed underneath with the pseudonym “El Sexto” (The Sixth), as a way of protesting against the huge campaign financed by the Cuban state to demand the release of the five spies considered heroes in Cuba. His social criticism and sarcastic messages were completely unacceptable to the authorities, who interpreted his art as a hostile act.

“I have been a follower of El Sexto for a long time. His work shows the injustice of the Castro regime, the lack of freedom, Valle Grande Prison (where he was held), the hunger strike he was forced to undertake…” commented Sheila Oliva Gonzales, a young Cuban who graduated from the National School of Arts in Cuba and now lives in Miami.

Despite everything, his imprisonment was a learning experience for El Sexto. “In Cuba there is a society that is falling apart, a country that is collapsing and this system has no solutions.”

The trip to the United States has represented a qualitative leap in Maldonado’s artistic career, but also on a personal level. “It helps you to want to transmit what you see to those over here. Here people believe in big dreams, and they are motivated to work, they have a purpose. That makes you fee.”

Ramon Alejandro, one of the great Cuban painters of exile, was present at the exhibition. “I did not know that he was a photographer, or that he painted on fabric, I only knew the drawings that circulated on the internet. He is a very good painter and what he does is very interesting, independent of its social and political implications,” he commented.

Others who were also there were Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, and Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, director of the Estado de Sats project. “It’s fantastic that he can have the exposition here, because he couldn’t do it in Cuban. It seems that Raul has bought this name and now it is his property, and the name Fidel as well. Now no one can have it, not even the pigs,” lamented Soler.

Danilo Maldonado, who is very close to the Todos Marchamos (We All March) initiative undertaken by several civil society groups on the island and in exile, has said on numerous occasions that his intention is to return to Cuba in March and to continue attending, along with his mother and grandmother, Santa Rita Church, with the Ladies in White. “The importance of Todos Marchamos is that no one has dared to do this before now, to take to the streets,” affirmed the artist.

Former Democratic congressman Joe Garcia, who was also present at the evening, praised Maldonado’s courage, because he had the opportunity to leave Cuba but decided to say. “This makes him a good Cuba, a patriot. The most heroic acts are those silent acts that people undertake to improve their country. And there are thousands and thousands of Cubans who are doing this every day,” he said in praise of El Sexto.

One of the most moving moments of the night, along with the realization of the performance art piece aborted in Havana, was the moment when El Sexto proceeded to get a tattoo of a declaration asking for the freedom of the Venezuelan politician Leopoldo Lopez, imprisoned in that country, and the Cuban political prisoners.

Tribute To Orlando Zapata Leads To Dozens Of Arrests / 14ymedio

Activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba marched this Sunday despite the arrests. (UNPACU)
Activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba marched this Sunday despite the arrests. (UNPACU)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 February 2016 — The events organized on Sunday to remember the late activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo resulted in dozens of opposition members arrested throughout the country. Several civil society organizations had also called for a tribute to honor the four Brothers to the Rescue pilots on the twentieth anniversary of their death at the hands of the Cuban Air Force.

Zapata Tamayo died on 23 February 2010 after a prolonged hunger strike to protest his prison conditions. The death of the dissident led to a wave of indignation in Cuban civil society and strong pronouncements from international bodies devoted to respect for human rights. continue reading

The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) confirmed to this newspaper the arrests of 134 of its members. The arrests occurred when opponents tried to “reach Catholic Churches to attend mass, from Guantanamo to Camaguey, as part of the actions within the We All March Campaign,” according to a statement from UNPACU.

In Havana about 37 Ladies in White managed to walk down 5th Avenue, supported by 34 activists. At least seven women were prevented from reaching the place, in the west of Havana.

“Fifty members of the Interior Ministry, some dressed in olive green uniforms and others in police uniforms, overpowered the protesters at the scene,” the blogger Agustín López Canino told 14ymedio at the scene. In his report, the activist added that those arrested were being put into “paddy wagons and taken to detention centers.”

Also present were “civilians” of the rapid response brigades who shouted pro-government slogans against the dissidents.

Ladies In White Pay Tribute To Laura Pollan / 14ymedio

Ladies in White paid tribute to the 68th anniversary of the birth of Laura Pollan. (14ymedio)
Ladies in White paid tribute to the 68th anniversary of the birth of Laura Pollan. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 February 2016 — Several groups of Cuban activists paid tribute on Sunday to Laura Pollan, the late leader of the Ladies in White. The weekly pilgrimage of the human rights movement along 5th Avenue in Havana honored the 68th anniversary of the birth of the late founder and leading figure in the women’s group.

At least 37 women made it to the parish of Santa Rita, in the neighborhood of Miramar and joined in the march. Another 15 activists from various organizations were also represented at the site to support the opposition, as confirmed by this newspaper. continue reading

Pollan was born on February 13, 1948. She worked as a teacher and began her civic activism at the time of the Black Spring of 2013, when her husband Hector Maseda was convicted and sent to prison. She led the Ladies in White dissident movement until her death in October 2011.

In 2014, a group headed by her daughter, Laura Labrada, separated from the Ladies in White and formed the Laura Pollan Ladies in White Civic Movement.

At the conclusion of the march this Sunday in Havana, the women met, as is traditional, in Gandhi Park. As they left the park they were violently arrested and taken to the Tarara Police Station, east of Havana, according to reports to 14ymedio from activists.

Also on Sunday, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) denounced the arrest of 83 of its members, most of them while trying to get to the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre in Santiago de Cuba.

Estado De Sats Holds Workshop On Rights And Freedoms / Cubanet, Arturo Rojas Rodriguez

Participants in the first Rights and Freedoms Workshop at Estado de Sats (photo by the author)
Participants in the first Rights and Freedoms Workshop at Estado de Sats (photo by the author)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Arturo Rojas Rodriguez, Havana, 12 February 2016 – On Thursday, members of several opposition groups participated in the first “Rights and Freedoms” workshop. The event brought together twenty participants and took place at Havana’s Miramar neighborhood.

Sponsored by Estado de Sats (State of Sats), those present included Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White. In his presentation, Antonio Rodiles, director of Estado de Sats, called for an analysis of the Roadmap for the Forum for Rights and Freedom, taking as a point of departure the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Rodiles emphasized, especially, the rights of workers in the private sector. continue reading

Raul Ciriaco Borges Alvarez, president of the Christian Democratic Social Party of Cuba, said that the work of the opposition has to be designed to encourage people, and primarily workers, to know their rights, to demand them, empowering them ever more with the tools that will allow them to “free themselves from the fear that constrains them.”

Agustín López Canino, blogger and freelance journalist, highlighted the role of various organizations and projects within civil society to convey knowledge, using forums, workshops, conferences and other spaces “of vital importance,” which only require a careful attention of those present, so that from their families, communities and frequented circles, they disseminate what they learned.

In response to a controversial debate about the popular discontent over state management and the fear than many profess about saying or doing anything about it, Rodiles pointed out that they need to connect with people and tell them, “look at what’s going on, if you’re afraid and don’t want to protest, at least stop supporting the regime.”

The workshop highlighted the role of the #TodosMarchamos (We All March)), with the participation of the Ladies in White and the Patriotic Union of Cuban (UNPACU) as cornerstones in the demand for an Amnesty Law and the release of political prisoners, among other actions to achieve a true state of law in Cuba.

Workshop participants agreed on the need to support fundamental actions to promote economic progress with the active role of the private sector and agreed to prepare a document for dissemination and analysis.

Email for Arturo Rojas Rodriguez: leylia815@gmail.com

Jose Daniel Ferrer Arrested And Beaten In Santiago De Cuba / 14ymedio

Ladies in White outside of the parish of Santa Rita in Havana. (Angel Moya)
Ladies in White outside of the parish of Santa Rita in Havana. (Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 January 2016 — Cuban activists have again experienced a repressive Sunday with the arrest of more than a hundred opponents throughout the island. The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer, was violently arrested in Santiago Cuba, according to sources in his organization.

About 130 members of the UNPACU and the Ladies in White movement were arrested in the eastern province while trying to reach the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre. Police and special forces intercepted them at various points along the busy road to the church, said the national coordinator of the organization, Yriade Hernández Aguilera. continue reading

The testimony of Santiago activists said that the UNPACU leader’s arrest occurred at 7:40 am Pajuil, a place of the road to El Cobre where police often set uptheir checkpoint. Opponents say they were surrounded by more than 35 troops, which threw him down and after he was immobilized on the ground they kicked him.

Ferrer and the other members of the organization arrested in the morning were released shortly afterwards.

In Havana, 70 people, including activists and Ladies in White, made it to the parish of Santa Rita in the neighborhood of Miramar. Angel Moya, a former prisoner of the Black Spring, denounced the previous arrest of 12 women in the organization, to prevent them from reaching the site.

In its summary for last year, the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) reported that “political repression increased steadily throughout 2015 from 178 cases in January to figures in the vicinity of 1000 arrests by year’s end.”