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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new case of fraud shakes Cuban universities / Mario Lleonart

A new case of academic fraud this Thursday has shaken the universities. A group of first year medical students in Villa Clara province were able to see in advance the answers to the morpho-physiology exam, which was sat Thursday July 2nd. According to various witnesses, the sale and circulation of the test was so widespread that it occurred in other venues, such as Sagua la Grande.

The immediate solution they are going to arrange is to get all the first year students to repeat the exam next Monday July 13th. At this stage it is not known whether any penalties will be applied to those who committed the fraud, nor whether they have made public the source of the leak. The only details which are known have come from those who have to retake the exam, with some students  complaining they are paying for the guilty ones.

This type of scandal in the academic world has occurred frequently in all educational levels. In July last year this daily paper reported the leak of various final tests in Medical Faculty Number 1 in Santiago de Cuba. On that occasion 23 students were directly involved in the leak and distribution of the contents of the second year anatomy and statistics exams, 4th year English, and the so-called State Test. On that occasion, the Teachers’ Board at the centre called for a sanction of two years’ suspension from higher education for the students involved in the act.

Translated by GH
9 July 2015

“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.

The Cuban Evangelical Churches Face Future Democratic Elections / Mario Lleonart

Mario Lleonart, 30 June 2105 — A paper I presented on Monday, June 29, at the event “Paths of Transition”, in Havana (a theoretical conference concerning on issues of democratic construction in Cuba).

In the present order of things, the Cuban State boasts about how some of its deputies in the National Assembly of People’s Power (Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular) are evangelical pastors, or have some other leadership position in the Protestant religious environment, which is an evident attempt at necessary auto-reaffirmation of that constitutional change which took place in 1992 of declaring a hitherto religiously atheistic State to secularity was more than a simple change of letter.

These exceptional cases of Protestant leaders that the Government boasts about, as in the case of other minorities, such as women, with regard to sex, or blacks, with regard to race, have helped soften the image which from all appearances is monolithic clearly from the ideological point of view that characterizes this body from its first organization. It is a sort of, “You tell me what you boast about and I’ll tell you what you lack.” continue reading

Indeed, three or four names, of peoples characterized by their unconditional surrender to system, were on loan to rent out their cassocks and sweeten of the lack of democracy in the current Parliament. The same faces can be seen in similar condition on other fronts where they were sent to represent the archaic system, as it was in evidence at the recent 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama, when some of these “religious” people were even able to participate in the so-called acts of repudiation against representatives of Cuban civil society, only to later affirm that they felt the presence of God there.

It is classic cohabitation of the princes and the false prophets. Regardless of the efforts to make people believe through the official propaganda that these individuals are heads of the Cuban evangelical churches, it is known for sure that they have actually been, are leaders of the so-called Cuban Council of Churches (Consejo de Iglesias de Cuba, CIC) after excelling in denominations of limited membership or historically vulnerable to government interference.

The CEC, notwithstanding the efforts made by the Office for the Attention of Religious Matters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), in conjunction with a manipulated Registrar of Associations of MinJus (Ministry of Justice), has failed to bring together the diversity of Evangelical and Protestant churches of Cuba.

Its membership lists do not reach half of religious institutions which possess legal personality, so if we also take into account the huge group of churches and religious movements without legal recognition, despite attempts to procure it, then we arrive at the conclusion that only a minority within the minorities that constitute the Protestant and Evangelical churches have been represented, not to say abused, by such opportunists.

In this context, one might think that even with pseudo-parliamentarians, at least the Protestant minorities might have had some experience, and that even have taken the lead over the Catholic Church, whose clergy have been notoriously absent, while [the evangelicals], in the end, in some way, have been present in the National Assembly. But in the future this actually might be reversed in a negative way for the evangelical minority, for two reasons at least.

On the one hand, the Catholic Church, whose political ambitions have never been a secret and which surely will seek representatives from its clergy in Cuba, when there is finally a genuine Parliament, could appeal to its current withdrawal, as advantage moral to get votes for having not lent names to a spurious Assembly.

On the other hand, the majority of evangelicals, by their negative reaction against the current undemocratic conditions, and perhaps even by rejection of the positions of “their representatives”, adopt a negative position, that is the extreme of rejecting the political, of alienation, by confusing the political with the current situation.

It is the social burden of false political position known as ’neutrality’, which is so necessary to question because, in addition to its real non-existence, is incompatible with the “subversive memory” of the Christian message, and which is by their apathy, an accomplice of so many excesses, is extremely dangerous, especially for the future of Cuba.

It is imperative to recognize that essential aspects of the evangelical mission, whatever arises, in the field of social, political, educational, economic, unfortunately remain excluded today, and what is worse, sometimes so far as rejected, either by fears of a State that has demonstrated its repressive character of “leftovers”, or by negative reaction to the aforementioned negative procedures.

It turns out to be extremely reductionist that the powerful message whose powerful influence has been demonstrated in Western culture, and the history of America, with roots even in the huge differences of today between the North and South; that this force, in the words of theologian and German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “frees from everything which oppresses and overwhelms”, be understood in Cuba as exclusively religious and cultic categories, even if they include the commendable knowledge of practices, beliefs, membership, attendance, etc.

It is undeniable that in Cuba in the present reality, evangelical churches have become what the Swiss sociologist Christian Lalive called The Refuge of the Masses; these communities, in their exponential growth, have become family, hospital, shelter, consolation for the unprotected masses of the island, and this has its positive side, but if you want to provide a greater good to Cuba it is necessary a go further if they really wish to contribute to their nation as a source of leadership and influence, and not remain as a mere reservoir.

The bad example, the negative face of those who pretend to represent them has have given currently to a foul play could be reversed with genuinely evangelical members of parliament in the future, contributing to a new Cuba where real justice, real democracy and respect to the most vulnerable groups, better distribution of wealth, which is in sumo a nation with good rulers, which coincides with the biblical ideal that these minorities preach.

It is time, not to withdraw into one’s shell or hide like the ostrich, but to first of all break to their core the myths and taboos put in a manifesto in a mutilated fulfilling of the mission.

Cuba needs that these powerful minorities get involved too, and participate in order to transform their reality, it needs a church that understands that both evangelism and social action are components in equal measure of its mission, that its good news constitutes a comprehensive message that knows no boundaries of any kind and that is addressed to every human being, considering all the reality of the person: the physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, social, and political.

In this context it is necessary that the evangelical leadership, if it is responsible and if the destiny of Cuba really interests it, begin to exchange this sterile culture of the rejection of the political, inherited as much from the anthropological damage infringed against all of society, as by the negative attitude of those who have lent themselves to the game of a false democracy.

Pastors, theologians, and other leaders of the Cuban Protestant churches must open up to the need for what we might call an integral evangelization for Cuba.

And it’s not necessary to sit and wait while others dedicate themselves to changing social conditions and generate the creation of a genuine Parliament, able to represent all the interests of the nation, without ignoring the minorities, in which group the evangelical churches are represented.

All Cubans; including evangelicals, in accordance not only with their path throughout the world, but in Cuba itself since their arrival in the 19th century; we are called to be proactive agents that we begin to generate the change-before-the-change. The analysis of the results of the latest constituency elections is extremely interesting, even if the results are taken from the official statistics.

On the one hand is the historic 20% that expressed their opposition whether through its absence from the ballot box (11.7%), by voiding a ballot (4.92%), or by leaving it blank (4.54%).

On the other hand are those who took the courageous position of going even further, trying to get candidates and even in two very unusual cases managing to dispute the elections in order to obtain the support of more than four hundred electors who dared to vote in favor of those who, in violation of the very Constitution, were called with the pejorative and intimidating label of “counter-revolutionaries”.

In the midst of this panorama I am interested in wondering how much the evangelicals contributed to each of these percentages. And I am even more excited to imagine the positions in which they will be able to decide the fate of Cuba, not only the evangelical leaders, but that number of electors that reaches their churches more and more, the evangelical mass, when they come to be aware of how much good they can do for the nation, in keeping with their faith, if it is genuine, and if this wish is verified by more than simple attendance at church: in living standards, in democratic decision-making, in the satisfaction of justice, in the common good of all.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz

A New Case of Fraud Jolts Cuban Universities / 14ymedio, Mario Feliz Lleonart

Students of the Faculty of Medicine of Villa Clara. (Facebook)
Students of the Faculty of Medicine of Villa Clara. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Feliz Lleonart, Villa Clara, 9 July 2015 — A new case of academic fraud jolted university campuses this Thursday. A group of first year students in Medical Sciences in the province of Villa Clara had prior access to the answers for the Morphophysiology III exam, given on Thursday, 2 July. According to several witnesses, the sale and circulation of the test was extensive and affected sites in other cities such as that in Sagua la Grande.

The immediate solution will be to retest all first year students on Monday, 13 July. So far it is not known if sanctions will be applied to those who committed the fraud, nor if the source of the link is known. The only details come from those who must retake the test, a measure some students consulted lamented as “paying for the sins of others.”

Scandals of this kind in Cuban academia have become common at all levels of education. Last June, this newspaper reported on the leak of several final exams in the No. 1 Medical School in Santiago de Cuba. On that occasion, 23 students were directly involved in leaking and distributing the content of the second year Anatomy and Statistics exams, fourth year English and the well known State Test. On that occasion the school’s director asked for a two-year suspension from higher education for the students involved in the incident.

The Violations of Religious Freedom in Cuba Continue / Mario LLeonart

Mario Lleonart, 22 June 2015 — Cuban Christians are grateful to Christian Solidarity Worldwide for the constant monitoring of violations of religious freedom in our country. I’d like to thank the Washington Post for giving this message a voice as other organizations like the Anajure in Brazil have done. I’d like to especially thank you for mentioning the theft of the lot belonging to our Baptist church in Yaguajay where our baptist college was held from in those times when we were also able to contribute to education.

Translated by: J. García

Profile of a Father / Mario Lleonart

Right about now, on this Father’s Day, Raúl Borges Álvarez is surely living something similar to what he has been suffering for 17 years, petitioning the prison where one of his two sons is held which will not even concede the possibility of letting him out on parole, to which he is entitled by law — all because of blasted politics!

At Havana’s Santa Rita Church — as at various other churches across the country — mothers, sisters, daughters and friends of many other political prisoners penalized for political differences attempt to gather each Sunday to attend Mass and later march, each holding a gladiolus. According to the latest statistics from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), there are around 71 prisoners on the known list. The women who march for them are known as the Ladies in White. continue reading

Other equally brave women known as the “Women Citizens for Democracy” do this at other locations. But Raúl Borges, like other fathers, brothers and friends, will not stand by inert before the valor of these women, and intends to join them in demonstrating his indignation, too.

The last 11 Sundays have been like a battle, with entire brigades sent to counterract these civil and peaceful forces, attacking them as if they were common criminals who must be suppressed. It has not been easy for Raúl. Besides being in his seventies, barely a few years ago he underwent two complicated operations — open-heart surgery on 31 August 2010, and a procedure for a peripheral cerebral infarction, in March 2012.

But none of this is more grave for him than the unjust imprisonment of his son, for which–besides everything else he does all the time–Raúl will do everything possible to join those hundreds of other persons who, all over the country, will demand the freedom of prisoners like his son, Ernesto Borges Pérez.

Neither his age nor physical condition will keep Raúl from trying to break through the lines of guards that start to form as of Thursday or Friday, and later, if he succeeds, he will not be ashamed to be thrown, like so many others, in the back of a truck or a bus headed for jail cells or to a remote and isolated spot where he would be put out to find his own way home, nor to be shackled and beaten, with no care as to whether the chosen target for the punch is his scarred chest–as it was four Sundays ago.

But a father’s love is not to be disdained next to that of a mother, for all the insistence by some that anyone can be a father, but a mother can only be one. Raúl is the refutation of this erroneous suggestion. And in the love of a father determined to do whatever it takes to gain the freedom of a son who is considered to be unjustly imprisoned, those who try to subdue civilian forces through violence will find an irresistible force, no matter how aggravated the confrontation may be.

None other than a Cuban State Security agent admitted as much to César, Raúl’s other son, when he warned him that he could not be responsible for the life of César’s stubborn father. “But,” the agent acknowledged, “were I in his place, I would do the same.”

Translator: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

21 June 2015

Why The Beatings? / Mario Lleonart

Mario Lleonart, 5 June 2015 — Beatings of peaceful demonstrators in Havana have been in the news for eight consecutive Sundays. In one of the first rounds, the son of the labor leader Jesús Menéndez was dragged for several yards along the ground with no concern for his advanced age.

On the seventh Sunday, between beatings and more beatings, it was obvious that another attempt was made to kill Raúl Borges Alvarez, this time with a sure blow to the chest–no matter (or, actually, because of) his having undergone heart surgery. continue reading

Even so, with respect to Raúl, officials from State Security warned his son, Ernesto, in prison, and his other son, Cesar, on the street, about the the possibility of Raúl’s imminent demise from his additional ailment of “chronic pancreatitis”–the same condition that killed Juan Wilfredo Soto García on 8 May 2011, following a beating by police three days earlier–because of course death can be a natural consequence of a beating, especially if one has prior health problems, and it is well known that the area of the pancreas is another preferred target of the attackers.

Some of us had hoped, following the announcement about normalizing relations between the US and Cuba, that there would be a stop to–or at least a lessening of–the beatings, but we now know that what is happening is precisely the opposite.

It would seem that the beast is feeling mightier and able to strike with impunity. This is borne out by the 641 arrests in May, the highest number of detentions of dissidents in the last 10 months, and which always, in some fashion, involve violence.

During the beatings and acts of repudiation against the Ladies in White, the political authorities have not hesitated to shamelessly transport the tormentors on buses that were brought to Cuba by the “Pastors for Peace” Caravan–an unintended purpose for these vehicles, we assume.

Experiences such as the recent Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama show that the regime that is an expert in beatings is willing to export this modality of intolerance to whichever location in the world will receive it. The international community can confirm that the system which, for survival’s sake, accedes to dialogue with its historical enemy, with the world power, with the “empire,” is not ready to do the same with its own people–and even less so if the issue is about accepting differences of opinion. It’s through strikes and blows that it tends to resolve any matter with its citizens.

The worst part is that many in the population have assimilated this modus operandi learned from Papa State, and it is thus that they prefer to resolve any problem, with or without reason: by hitting.

Any male or female citizen in Cuba, however peaceful he or she may be, is exposed to the blows that come directly from the State, or from any of its many Frankensteins, its “New Men” as evoked by Guevara, who prefer to use their neighbors as punching bags before resolving differences through dialogue.

Blows abound when words–and especially reasons–are scarce.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Cardinal’s Bad Memory / 14ymedio, Mario Felix LLeonart

Cardinal Jaime Ortega at a conference at Harvard University in 2012 (Fotograma)
Cardinal Jaime Ortega at a conference at Harvard University in 2012 (Fotograma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart, Havana, 12 June 2015 – As was expected, Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s flat denial of the fact that there are still political prisoners in Cuba has leaked from the interview granted to Spain’s Ser Chain program Hour 25. It borders on the enigmatic how someone in the position of this man is open to asserting something that no one believes at all and that has done nothing for either the church that he represents or he himself. It is obvious that such a nonsensical statement shatters all of the church’s social doctrine that he is called upon to support and practice. continue reading

But supposing that the prelate is so badly informed that he is ignorant of the existing lists, like that of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), that include dozens of prisoners, whether supporters of violence or not, but without doubt all incarcerated for political reasons, one will have to add that the cardinal suffers also from a memory deficit. Because the archbishop must at least remember that on the eve of the visit by Benedict XVI on February 28, 2012, he had to visit the political prisoner Ernesto Borges Perez at Combinado del Este Prison to ask him to give up his hunger strike because he was putting the Pope’s visit at risk.

Ernesto was amenable to the proposal of his pastor, who raised great expectations of his liberation with the then-imminent visit. That hope was frustrated, as before in 2010, when 126 prisoners were released, or later, in December of 2014, when another 53 were freed after the announcement of the re-establishment of US-Cuba relations. Many of us came to think that it had been he for whom the liberation of the Wasp Network spies had been negotiated, until we learned that in reality it had been Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, sentenced for a reason similar to his.

Borges Perez has completed 17 of the 30 years of incarceration to which he was sentenced after his death penalty was commuted. He was sentenced for his effort to reveal the names of 26 spies that Cuban State Security had ready to send to the United States. He was then the main analyst and leader of the General Directorate of Counter-Intelligence and apparently acted under the influence of the Glasnost and Perestroika winds that were blowing in the USSR.

Converted to Catholicism in prison, where he survives as a fervent believer who clings to his faith as his only lifeline of salvation, he must have felt an enormous frustration after that visit by his pastor who left satisfied on achieving his objective and has never returned to see him. I doubt that the two letters of pastoral support addressed to him by Benedict XVI through the papal nuncio mitigate his disappointment on learning that his pastor did not even take account of him in his interview with Hour 25.

I pray to God that history does not repeat itself and that Ernesto does not again declare a hunger strike with the approach of the new papal visit in September.

Translated by MLK

Four Years Without Justice / Mario Lleonart

Juan Wilfredo Soto García, “The Student,” October 13, 2010

May 5th was the fourth anniversary of the brutal beating of activist Juan Wilfredo Soto García, which resulted in his death two days later. It was followed bythe deaths of noted leaders Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, in which many also acknowledge the presence of the criminal hand. The effectiveness of extrajudicial execution, verified in the case of Juan Wilfredo Soto and amply proven by other governments, is also beyond doubt in Cuba.

The regime that began with firing squads no longer needs them. The moratorium on the death penalty since 2003 is possible because those in power have perfected their method of eliminating political opponents, paying for it at the lowest possible price. North Korea, which “judicially” exterminates without ceremony, as demonstrated again a few days ago, should take lessons from its more sophisticated Cuban allies, the best students of Machiavelli. continue reading

The common denominator in the three cases cited above is the lack of impartial investigations, which would most benefit murder suspects who were truly innocent. Four years after his death, what has happened in Juan Wilfredo’s case?

– His closest relatives, his two children, well aware of the criminality of the regime, opted for safety and emigrated through the Refugee Program of the United States.

– The impartial investigation requested of the Attorney General’s Office has not provided any conclusion.

– Not a single witness from the list that I gave to the Provincial Prosecutor of Villa Clara was called to testify. When I recently went to Prosecutor Osmel Fleites Cárdenas seeking information, he listened to my statement, reviewed the file, and confirmed that there is sufficient evidence to open a case, but then explained to me that he “no longer has anything to do with the matter because the investigation has been handed over to the Military Prosecutor.”

– It has been impossible to contact the family of Alexis Herrera Rodriguez, then a neighbor at 204 5th Street in the Camacho subdivision of Santa Clara. He was one of the three soldiers who participated in the fatal beating of Soto, the investigation of which was handled with total security by officers of the Political Police. Several witnesses placed him at the scene of the beating that fatal morning. He committed suicide by gunshot on Sunday May 8, 2011, Mother’s Day (the day we buried Soto), but survived some five days and was ultimately buried with a ceremony surrounded by heavy security on Friday May 13.

– It has also proved impossible to locate the other two police officers who participated in the beating—a man and a woman, twenty-year-olds, like Alexis—although it is rumored that both are now out of the military, at least from outward appearances, and that one is probably interned in a psychiatric hospital.

We live our lives aware of the dangers we face in denouncing the reality that extra-judicial executions are carried out with impunity in Cuba. We are supported in this every day in different ways, but we have no alternative if we truly want to represent the God of Justice whom we say we serve and to whose protection we entrust ourselves.

And in the case of Juan Wilfredo, having exhausted the meager options of the rigged Cuba legal system, we have no recourse but to appeal to the established international mechanisms, for which we have the support of the Commission on Human Rights, headed by Elizardo Sanchez, and of the beleaguered organization Cubalex.

6 May 2015

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, from Cuba / Mario Lleonart

Photo of the author

Although today [15 January] is a holiday only in the USA, I also in my own way celebrate it in Cuba. Why not join in the celebration of the birth of the Baptist pastor and fighter for civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr.? His life is inspirational for many of us, including me, who every day seek freedom and equality for human beings, all creatures of God.

 His existence is one of my answers to those who in Cuba who question why I combine theology with social activism. I have not invented anything new. It is the most natural thing to combine ideas and actions, and this was what happened in the life of the Reverend King. His sermons, his philosophy, his methodology, his strategy of nonviolent struggle, his life and his martyrdom are an example to follow in any dark corner of the world, and also in the illuminated places, to prevent anyone ever to darken them.

The last time that I mentioned his name to those who are responsible for repressing me in Cuba was on October 26, when I arrived from Poland, two agents from State security awaited me at the airport for questioning about my statements in the land of Lech Walesa and my subsequent activities and position in Cuba.

According to them my pastoral ministry should be confined to the four walls of a church to which they would gladly cloister me. My answer was that in addition to the unsurpassed example of Jesus Christ, I admired and tried to imitate, except for the distances, transcendental beings such as the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Catholic priest Jerzy Popieluszco and the Baptist pastor Martin Luther King Jr.

To which one of them, with the obvious threat that the same thing could happen to me, he riposted: What a coincidence, that all of them are martyrs!

Hopefully just like in August 1963, when he achieved that historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in Cuba soon we will be able to realize something similar of our own in Havana, which, as the successful artist Tania Bruguera demonstrated in the recent events on December 30, so far remains forbidden to the people.

In the midst of our Cuban reality of continual violations civil rights, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of our luminaries.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz

Spanish post
19 January 2015

The ‘Cabanuelas’ for Religious Freedom / 14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart

:  Children during a celebration of the Day of the Kings at Taguayabon Church (M. F. Lleonart Barroso)
: Children during a celebration of the Day of the Kings at Taguayabon Church (M. F. Lleonart Barroso)

14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, 16 January 2015 – Cuban peasants have a tradition that they carry out at the beginning of year. They observe the first twelve days of January and complete the observation – in a countdown – with the following twelve days until they get to the 24th day. They have the idea that what happened in the natural environment on those dates can yield some insight on how the year will be.

If it rains on the third day, that means for the men of the field that the same thing will occur in the third month. This way they get an idea of whether the year will be rainy or dry, if there will be hurricanes, much heat or if it will feel cold in the limited winter. The farming traditions call these days that the farmers think of as a preamble to the months of the year cabanuelas.

For those of us who form part of the religious sphere in Cuba, the last year ended with new perspectives on the relations with our counterparts in the United States. After the announcement by President Barack Obama last December 17, there have been more than a few citizens from that country who have been interested in how they might help us in the most effective way, given the opportunities that are opening up. continue reading

The new scenario is positive for those churches on the Island who never stopped maintaining fraternal relations with their peers in the northern country, in spite of all those years that intervened in and served as obstacles to those ties.

Nevertheless, nothing is gained if perspectives feed only on the bright side, ignoring realities present in the landscape. If that were done, one would fall into very illusory readings extremely loaded with subjectivity. There is no doubt about the good intentions of the whole world, of American churches and even of President Barack Obama, but on what obstacles will those good intentions stumble?

In our country there are great impediments that limit exchange in the religious area and that form part of what many call “the internal blockade.” In order for the recently announced policies to have the desired effect, at least the following changes will have to occur on a national level:

  1. The Office of Attention to Religious Matters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba must disappear. It is unacceptable that an office embedded in an atheist organization, which is also the only legally recognized party, tries to resolve everything concerning religion in the country.
  2. The Register of Associations by the Justice Ministry of Cuba must act with total independence and not under pressure, as occurs now, coming principally from the Office of Attention to Religious Matters. To begin, it should agree to the legalization of dozens of religious groups that for years have aspired to it.
  3. A Worship Law must be created and approved by all the people to defend religious liberties. In spite of its imperative need until now it has been conspicuous by its absence.
  4. The monopoly and privileges that the said office grants to the Counsel of Churches of Cuba, which does not shield most religious institutions as was intended, must end.

Furthermore, the Baptist Resurrection Church, in the rural community of Rosalia, celebrated Day of the Kings or Epiphany at the beginning of the year. Given that January 6 was a work day, they decided to celebrate it on the weekend and announced it to the residents of the place. The Communist Party in Camajuani and Taguayabon ordered our celebrations counteracted. With such objective they dedicated significant funds so that cultural and culinary institutions would carry out collateral activities, not with the healthy desire to entertain the people, but with the unhealthy one of “confronting” us.

If I stick to this view and the reading of these hard facts, I could prophesy that in spite of the good wishes of the world that is opening up to Cub, the religious scene does not begin well at all for our country, given the obstinacy of those who occupy political and military power. Nevertheless, when I see that in spite of the police apparatus our celebration of the Kings triumphed in a church full of children, I return to optimism and believe that so many good wishes will come to a good end.

Translated by MLK

The situation of religious liberty in Cuba / Mario Lleonart

The delegation from Instituto Patmos, invited by United for Human Rights to the celebration of the 66th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

During all of 2014 this blog, Cubano Confesante, I examined the best part of the thirty questions that doubt the supposed religious liberties in Cuba, which were launched in September of 2013 during the trip we took to Washington, invited by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

These analyses were the object of discussion in forums and workshops convened by the Instituto Patmos in various sites in Cuba, and at times also some of those posts were the fruit of these. This contributed to sharing these contents in an island where access to internet is difficult. continue reading

Arriving precisely at the end of the year we arrived in the said review at the middle of those questions, the fifteenth, having realized that the majority of them, lamentably, far from being no longer applicable, had maintained or had increased. Only in the case of two can we breathe more easily:

Why the failure to account for the wave of repression that took place during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI during which hundreds of people were arbitrarily detained or threatened, and of whom still remain in prison and threatened with severe penalties Sonia Garro and her husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz*?

It continues still without giving account about the repressive wave, not the regime in Cuba that triggered it, nor the Vatican that tolerated it, have given explanations in this regard. But at least Sonia Garro and Alejandro Ramón were let out of prison on December 9 to be prisoners in their own homes as a home detainment. We will continue arguing this question until there is accountability concerning the repression which attracted representatives of civil society in Cuba in the March 2012 visit of Benedicto XVI. And until Sonia and Ramon have the freedom they deserve.

Why not free the United States citizen Alan Gross, who was left a prisoner in Cuba for supporting with technology the Jewish Cuban community and who serves as a warning to anyone else who decides to be supportive with any other existing religious communities?

Fortunately since December 17, Alan Gross is free. It ended an outrage that lasted five years and which clearly was a kidnapping that the regime in Cuba used in order to pressure the Government of the United States to release their five spies discovered as part of the Red Avispa network, which was operating in its territory.

Throughout the year we were publishing, among others, a series of posts dedicated to reviewing the thirty questions whose validity is unfortunately preserved almost in its entirety. [Note to English readers: as not all these posts were translated the list is not reproduced here.]

*Translator’s note: Since this post was written they have been released.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz

28 December 2014

Alan Gross, ‘The New York Times’ And The Spies / 14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart

American Contractor Alan Gross
American Contractor Alan Gross

14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart, Havana, 1 December 2014 — Last November 4, the White House reiterated that the case of citizen Alan Gross, prisoner in Cuba for bringing electronic equipment onto the Island, is not comparable to that of the Cuban spy members of the Wasp Network and that therefore there will be no exchange.

The reaffirmation invalidates the principal objective of the Havana regime in the kidnapping of Gross and took place amidst one of the intense campaigns by the so-called International Conference for the Liberty of the Five, which more than freedom for the prisoners has as its objective making noise and gaining followers from among the naïve of the world who may still be in favor of a Caribbean totalitarianism that approaches its 60th year.

Far and wide, the name of Gross has kept petitions moving that join the regime’s proposal that he should be exchanged for the spies. The Church World Service, for example, which since its beginning in 1948 has served the interests of the extreme left, made a three-day visit to Cuba at the beginning of November in which it made clear that Gross is only its excuse, and its objective: the liberation of the Cuban spies.

Among the saga of the editorials devoted to Cuba by the New York Times, which so far add up to six, the fourth, published at the very beginning of November, aligned with the proposal for exchange contrary to the reiterations by the American government. November, by the way, concludes with the visit by the editorial writer Ernesto Londono to Cuba, and with him, also, the spirit of each editorial arrives on the Island.

The support of the Church World Service for each propagandistic slogan Havana’s political agenda is to be expected, it has always been its trajectory. Never a statement in favor of the victims of the system, always in favor of the victimizer.

But the case of the New York Times has been different, because in its history we remember positions contrary to the dictatorial excesses on the Island, as occurred in the face of the so-called Black Spring of 2003. At that time, Fidel Castro’s “Reflections” did not report favorably on the positions taken by the New York Times, nor did we see the wholesale publication of New York Times editorials in the Communist Party Organ, but all to the contrary.

Like that article in Granma of April 24, 2003, under the signature of Arsenio Rodriguez, which Reinaldo Escobar of 14ymedio reminded us of, where he stated: “…its editorial decisions are neither serious nor liberal, but they obediently comply with the defense orders of the dominant power interests of that nation,” to conclude: “…the true role of The New York Times (sic) was, is and will be to represent the essence of the empire.”

On the other hand, the New York Times has never said that those who hold political power in Cuba are a good government, what it criticizes are positions historically maintained by the United States, which from its point of view have been ineffective in achieving the dismantlement of totalitarianism on the Island and for which it proposes another policy, one of rapprochement, which some call “the embrace of death.”

Even if I do not agree with the New York Times’ thesis, I do hope that after their present visit to the island, the new editorials that are published will correct a little their current direction. For example, in the case of the fourth editorial I have the hope that Londono will not only interview Gross himself in person, but that he will explore other possible resolutions for the case that worries him, that of the spies, more feasible for an exchange and that until now he has not considered: that of the exchange of other probable spies for spies.

This has to do with cases like that of Ernesto Borges Perez, accused of spying for the United States, now confined in the Combinado del Este Prison, in his 16th year of incarceration, the same amount of time as the three who are imprisoned in the United States accused of spying for Cuba.

Under accusations similar to those of Borges are found also Rolando Sorraz Trujillo, sentenced to 25 years since 1995; Claro Fernando Alonso Hernandez, sentenced to 30 years since 1996; the team of Ricardo Alarcon, ex-president of the National Assembly of Popular Power, Miguel Alvarez, sentenced to 30 years, and Mercedes Arce, sentenced to 14; and Eusebio Conrado Hernandez Garcia, close to the ousted Carolos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque, sentenced to 20 years, which he is serving in the Guanajay prison.

It is obvious that the Cuban regime is not interested in packing off these prisoners who seem to be a high priority of general Raul Castro, but one would have to see his reaction if the United States government recognizes that the accusation under which Havana keeps in prison – with severe penalties – these Cubans were correct and were to take an even further step, weighing as more valid the option of exchanging for them the three Cuban spies in United States territory.

Maybe the New York Times, which likes to look for the fifth leg to the table, will redirect its proposal and expose this more comparable option. And that, of course, the exchange of spies for spies will be produced with the antecedent liberation of Alan Gross, who evidently did not spy for anyone and finds himself unjustly imprisoned in Cuba.

Translated by MLK

My Encounters With Popieluszko / Mario Lleonart

With my brother in Christ Dagoberto Valdes during the homages to Jerzy Popieluszko

In June of 2013 I travelled for the first time to Poland and made an inevitable visit to the tomb of the Polish martyr Jerzy Popieluszko. All the way from distant Cuba, Popieluszko for me embodied the logical challenge of faith in the face of a totalitarian system that is an enemy of God.

If in life Popieluszko more than fulfilled his pastoral duty of defending his fold against the wolf, in death he showed the world the utter impotence of a regime capable of resorting to assassination to silence a prophet, and clearly put in contrast the borders between good and evil in the Poland of 1984.

My return to Poland in October 2014 coincided with the 30th anniversary of the crime agains Popieluszko, and constituted a theological lesson on the implications of the martyrdom of the saints – in particular, the eschatological truth of the Resurrection and the Christian hope that celebrates as ever-living those exceptional beings such as Popieluszko, even though their remains still rest in their tombs.

Here I am in the church with the sister and brother of Popieluszko

This time my pilgrimage was not in solitude in search of a site of mystical quietude, as in 2013. It was more like a grain of sand among compact multitudes who were expressing our admiration and remembrance of the good pastor who did not flee when he saw the wolf approaching. At the same time, we were celebrating the fruit of his sacrifice: democracy and liberty in today’s Poland.

Among the first changes evident after 1989, perhaps imperceptible among many enormous and transcendent transformations, was the inclusion (a happy initiative of Lech Walesa’s) of a chapel in no less than the symbolic Presidential Palace – which would have been inconceivable during the period of totalitarian misrule.

Expression of liberties gained constitutes proof that the physical death of the martyr Popieluszko, rather than rendering him invisible, immortalized him to his people and amplified the values and virtues that he preached and practiced in life.

A radiant sun on Sunday, October 19, provided an extraordinary setting — as if in respite from the harsh, quasi-wintry days of autumn — to thousands of Poles and hundreds of citizens from the world over gathered at the place that guards the remains of the martyr who awaits his resurrection.

It was the natural testimony of the celebration in heaven and on earth honoring the the life that Death did not cut short, an evangelical reaffirmation that there are some who kill physical bodies, but they cannot kill souls. Blessed Poland that has her Popieluszko as a sign that in her, the wolves could not — without pastoral resistance — attack the sheep, who in fact chased away the wolf that attacked their pastor.

Multitudes at the tributes to Popieluszko
Multitudes at the tributes to Popieluszko

Happy Poland for not accepting the lament (in other contexts a fitting one) in “Ring Them Bells” by Bob Dylan: “Oh the shepherd is asleep/ where the willows weep/ and the mountains are filled with lost sheep.” God willing that in any part of the world where, as in Cuba, wild beasts have their lair, there be pastors like Popieluszko capable of facing them down, true to their calling, even — were it necessary — unto the sacred privilege of martyrdom.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

29 October 2014