“We bought the death of my brother” / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

 Dunieski Eliades Lastre (left) and Edelvis Martínez Aguilar (right), Cuban migrants killed in Urabá, Colombia. (Courtesy)
Dunieski Eliades Lastre (left) and Edelvis Martínez Aguilar (right), Cuban migrants killed in Urabá, Colombia. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 18 September 2016 — “With the money from the sale of my mother’s house, we bought the death of my brother.”

Spoken with indescribable bitterness, these were the words of Edgardo Nordelo Sedeño, brother of Dunieski Eliades Lastre, age 25, murdered in Colombia on 8 September along with the young woman Edelvis Martínez. Both were Cubans and were trying to sneak through the jungles and borders that separated them from their goal: the United States and their dream of a free life.

Although Forensic Medicine has ruled out for the moment the alleged rape of Edelvis Martínez, the prosecutor has revealed gruesome details in the tragic ends of these young migrants trying to reach the United States. continue reading

Edelvis Martinez Aguilar was an accountant for a paladar, a private restaurant in Havana. She left with her boyfriend Liover Santos Corria, 35, heading to Guyana. After crossing Venezuela and Colombia they met up with Eliades Dunieski who apparently traveled to Capurgana to get to the Darien jungle. That day, two of them were killed in a Colombian swamp.

“We can not say that Martinez had been raped, at least there is no macroscopic evidence of that. Forensic Medicine did the research, collected samples from the body and are undertaking a conclusive analysis of the issue,” an official with the Columbian Attorney General’s office told 14ymedio, who asked to remain anonymous.

“We have found clear signs of torture in both victims before the murder,” he added.

The alleged perpetrators were identified as Johan Estiven Carreazo Asprilla, alias ‘Play Boy’, age 20, and Carlos Emilio Ibargüen Palacio, age 26. According to Santos, the only survivor, the Cuban migrants paid $1,500 to be taken to Panama, but once they arrived at the Gulf of Uraba the smugglers demanded more money. When the Cubans explained that they had no cash, the boaters murdered them with knives and hid their bodies tied to a tree trunk at the bottom of the Matuntugo Swamp. Santos saw his girlfriend beheaded after she was raped, he says, but he was able break loose and escape from the crime scene.

“The young man is under protection on a Navy ship because we fear for his safety,” said the source in the Colombian Attorney General’s office. According to the investigator, it is very likely that there are more people involved in the murder of the Cubans so it is necessary to protect the main witness.

“The boatmen pleaded not guilty, but the prosecution has sufficient evidence to incriminate them,” the source explained.

Following the arrest of suspects involved in the crime, a search of the travel backpacks of those killed found cell phones, cash and clothes. Also seized were a firearm, a smoke grenade, several pieces of clothing related to the crime scene and a wooden boat in which was one of the shoes of the murdered woman.

The alleged murderers of the two Cuban migrants in Colombia. (Colombian authorities)
The alleged murderers of the two Cuban migrants in Colombia. (Colombian authorities)

The identity of those murdered was corroborated by Cuban authorities. According to what this newspaper has been able to confirm, the United States embassy in Colombia has taken up the issue and expressed interest in granting asylum to the survivor.

Although the Cuban consulate in Bogota declined to comment on the matter, the Colombian Foreign Ministry said they have been in contact with the relatives of those killed through diplomatic representatives in Miami to advise them on the procedure to claim the bodies.

“Colombia will provide all the help needed for repatriation, but this is a matter for the family or the Cuban Embassy. Family members can delegate power to the embassy or manage the process independently,” said the Foreign Ministry.

14ymedio spoke with the relatives of the victims in Cuba and in the United States. For Maria Isabel Aguilar, the mother of Edelvis Martinez, her main concern is that so far she doesn’t know what the process is for repatriating the body of his daughter.

“We went to MINREX (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) but there they told us to wait for the authorization of the Colombian government to bring the bodies. We don’t know how to bring my daughter. I only want her here with me,” she said.

Dunieski Eliades Lastre’s brother, Edgardo Nordelo Sedeño, said that the cost to repatriate the bodies is around $3,000 each. The family members who had to privately arrange the trip to MINREX explained via a telephone call that although the Cuban government authorized the entry of the bodies, they will not pay for the costs of bringing them home.

“Dunieski was my younger brother, my mother’s delight. So much so she wanted to sell her house to be able to pay for the ticket so he could have a better life,” explained Nordelo, who arrived in the United States last February by way of Ecuador.

“I don’t understand the motive for the murder. The other boy … told me that my brother told them, ‘Don’t kill me, I’ll give you the number of my brother in the United States so he can send you money. It wasn’t for money. I don’t understand why they did it,” he said.

Eliades Lastre managed to make the crossing from Guyana to Turbo in one week. According to his relatives he had a good trip until he reached the Colombian coast.

“Because of the bad weather they couldn’t take them to where the other coyote was. They returned to the home of a guide and a few minutes before leaving the house where they were hiding, he wrote me to tell me. That was the last time we communicated,” recalls Edgardo Nordelo.

“The blame for the death of our family members belongs to those who pushed them to the jungle and made them seek out coyotes to achieve their dream of freedom,” he said.

Free Information Is “Food For The Brain,” Said Alan Gross / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

The US contractor Alan Gross on Tuesday at the Cuba Internet Freedom in Miami. (14ymedio)
The US contractor Alan Gross on Tuesday at the Cuba Internet Freedom in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 13 September 2016 — The last day of Cuba Internet Freedom Forum (CIF), which is meeting in Miami this week and was attended by dozens of experts in the use of networks, explored the importance of recognizing internet access as a fundamental human right and analyzed trends in the digital market on the island and the landscape of independent journalism, among others. The event, organized by the US Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) and the first of its kind in history, seeks to promote new ways to increase connectivity in one of the countries with the worst internet access index in the world.

Among the most relevant events of the day was the Internet Freedom: Fundamental Human Right workshop, which involved the US subcontractor Alan Gross who spent five years in prison in Cuba for “acts against the territorial integrity of the state.” continue reading

Gross’s first words were “¿Qué bolá?, asere” – what’s happening, dude. Gorss said that “information is food for the brain” and, therefore, should be considered a human right.

The former prisoner, cigarette in hand, also noted the island’s need to “land” in the 21st century. “If we believe that the Cuban government says about the the need for exports to improve its economy, we have to think that it would facilitate contacts between producers and foreign markets, and that can only be done through the internet,” he added.

In the panel on trends in the digital market in Cuba, the founder of the site Apretaste, Salvi Pascual, explained the results of a survey conducted through this new initiative, which allows information to be collected through Nauta email. The results show that the majority of those consulted on the island want internet, although they would have to pay a fixed monthly fee. The survey also showed that a high percentage of the inhabitants on the island want the government rationing system to be maintained.

“Internet is a universal human right and that is why the Castros fear it,” said Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio in a video message addressed to the public forum.

In another panel, dedicated to independent journalism on the island, the analyst Miriam Celaya recalled the background of this phenomenon. Other participants such as Rolando Lobaina, Ivan Garcia and Ignacio Gonzalez also addressed the issue from the plurality of independent sites and the awakening being observed in other media in which official journalists participate, such as El EstornudoOnCuba and El Toque.

Lobaina raised the challenge of organizing an event of this kind on the island, but said government repression towards the independent press “would probably prevent it.”

The Internet Freedom Forum Cuba closed its doors Tuesday in Miami. (14ymedio)
The Internet Freedom Forum Cuba closed its doors Tuesday in Miami. (14ymedio)

The event presented the work of the digital site Martí Noticias, which has about six million visits to its website and an average of more than nine minutes of time spent on the site.

“It is an excellent opportunity for an exchange between those of us on the island and those in exile. The future of the internet in Cuba we are going to guarantee for everyone,” Joanna Columbié, a member of the Somos+ Movement (We Are More). The activist added that this type of event has a real impact on ordinary Cubans, because it provides tools to facilitators who, once in the country may continue the educational work there.

According to Rachell Vazquez, a freelance journalist who contributes to 14ymedio, it is increasingly necessary that the information produced in Cuba not only reflect the reality of the capital, but also the interior of the island.

“Freedom, both of expression and on the internet, is fomented when people of a neighborhood or a municipality see their lives, their concerns and their hopes reflected in the work we do. That’s the best way to contribute to the change of mentality in Cuba,” she said.

“Social Media and the ‘Weekly Packet’, That’s the Game Plan in Cuba / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 12 September 2016 — Experts who participated in the first day of the Cuba Internet Freedom Forum, a two-day conference in Miami starting on Monday, agreed on the importance of further progress in improving access to the World Wide Web on the island, highlighting the crucial crucial played by alternatives such as the Weekly Packet, and criticizing the high price of internet service for the majority of people. The event, organized by the US Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), was attended by over 300 people including about 100 specialists in various areas.

Opening the forum was John Lansing, director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a US government agency responsible for Radio and TV Marti and the Voice of America. continue reading

Lansing referred to the impact increased communications and the use of networks is having on the island, and the turning point the country is now experiencing. The specialist noted the interest of the US Administration in promoting internet use on the island. With a documentary about the difficulties of accessing the internet in the country, the campaign #InternetParaTodos (Internet For Everyone) was launched, a effort of OCB to demand the right to free access and to promote the search for alternatives to increase connectivity.

The film presented different realities within the country, such as off-line connections, a system that permits the networking between 1,000 and 10,000 people to exchange information and files.

“Social Media and the Weekly Packet, that’s the game plan in Cuba,” said one of the participants in the documentary, referring to the ability of these tools to break down the official bias over information with these two tools, so far the most popular in a country where communications are controlled by the State.

One of the objectives of the campaign is the empowerment of citizens, for whom labels as #LoQuePasaEnMiBarrio (What Happens In My Neighborhood) and #InternetParaTodos (Internet for Everyone) were launched.

As part of the presentations, the researcher Anne Nelson from Columbia University, presented the report Cuba’s Digital Landscape, in which she outlined an overview on internet use on the island since 2008, when access to computers began to grow.

The specialist stressed the importance of the fact that it is China that has invested the most in the country’s communications infrastructure. “Whoever builds the basic communications infrastructure will influence its future,” said the academic, who said the United States should pay particular attention to this issue.

A panel at the Cuba Internet Freedom Forum, which began Monday in Miami (14ymedio)
A panel at the Cuba Internet Freedom Forum, which began Monday in Miami (14ymedio)

“Cuban infrastructure right now is like what the US had in 2006. In many places it is only 2G and in the most privileged the technology is 3G, so the speed is very slow and the cost for ordinary Cubans is prohibitive,” she said.

Nelson highlighted the role of US companies in the sector and the proposals that have been made with the aim of achieving open access to internet for Cubans. “We are living a turning point in the history of the Caribbean. We have to be part of that,” she said.

In another presentation by Mai Truong, director of the Freedom House program, censorship of the internet and its evolution was also analyzed.

Cuba is among the worst five countries in terms of internet censorship, despite a increase of 7 percentage points in access in the last five years. Truong said among the main obstacles for Cubans to access the internet is price; it costs about 10% of the average monthly salary for one hour at the government-enabled wifi zones, 2 CUC (about $2 US) an hour.

Another major obstacle is the government control over the content and the lack of regulations that protect freedom of expression in cyberspace.

One third of the world’s population lives in countries where internet freedom is restricted, and over the last five years it has worsened.

However, the Weekly Packet is an offline source that exposes islanders to the global reality as shown by its growing presence on mobile devices and personal computers.

“The Cuban government is at a crossroads between giving more Internet access to its citizens or control such access as does China,” Truong explained.

Truong gave the example of countries like Myanmar, which had a communications sector as depressed as Cuba’s is, but decided to lift the policy of censorship and has since made great strides in the area of communications.

The event was attended by the mayor of Miami, Tomás Regalado. Speaking to 14ymedio he explained, “The meeting is a clear message of what we want for Cuba.”

According to Regalado, Cubans “do not want direct travel, but freedom of information.” The mayor explained that when refugees from the island come to the United States the first thing they look for is a cellphone to communicate. He said it is “curious” that some of these people after returning to the island “lose their dignity and their money.”

For the director of Radio and Television Martí, Mary (Malule) Gonzalez, the event has been a success. “All the guests from Cuba have come to us and the public has responded in an exceptional way.”

The Ordeal of a Cuban Family Trapped in Panama / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

A Cuban girl plays among the makeshift shelters in the village of La Miel, Panama. (Courtesy)
A Cuban girl plays among the makeshift shelters in the village of La Miel, Panama. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 1 September 2016 — Fernanda and Fabio do not know why they are far from home. They are six and three, but eleven months ago they left their kindergarten in Holguin, in eastern Cuba. They have suffered the rigors of the altitude of the Andes, and the humidity of the tropical forests. They are two children, like dozens of others, stranded with their parents in Panama, after escaping from a warehouse in the coastal area of Colombia.

“When we arrived at the airport in Panama, with $20 in our pockets, a lady gave the children a chocolate and a peanut candy. I remember she told us, “Some day you have to write down everything you went through to reach freedom,” recounts the children’s father, Johans Tamayo Molina, 38. continue reading

Tamayo is one of the more than 500 Cubans who are within Panamanian territory as part of an operation that the government of that country implemented to assist migrants who managed to get through the jungle or to enter informally from the sea. Now they are refugees in the shelters set up for the humanitarian emergency by Caritas Panama, an organization of the Catholic Church.

“We do not divulge the numbers or locations of the Cubans, because we fear for their safety. Several have been arrested by Panama Immigration when they leave the Caritas facilities,” explains Iris, a secretary for Caritas in the country’s capital.

So far, through donations, the NGO offers food, water and clothing to the migrants. In addition, they arrange baths and distribute the people among various churches. The Red Cross and the Panamanian Health Service have also collaborated to assist those stranded. After being in areas prone to tropical diseases some Cubans have become ill, as is the case with Ubernel Cruz, who is hospitalized with malaria. There are also reports of deaths in the jungle crossing, such as that of Carmen Issel Navarro Olazabel, 49, who died on August 20.

According to Tamayo, the journey to the Panamanian city has been one of the most difficult times of his life. “My wife and I came with the children from Ecuador. We arrived in Turbo, where an elderly lady took us into her home. She had nothing of value, even the floor was just dirt. There we shared in her misery, and we ate the little she had. This affected us strongly,” he says.

Following the decision of Columbia’s Foreign Ministry and Immigration to intervene in the warehouse and surroundings, where more than 1,400 Cubans were taking refuge in Turbo, the Tamayo family embarked for Sapzurro, a village on the border from where they though they could enter Panama.

“We crossed by sea, fearing that the Panamanian Coast Guard would shoot us, because those were the rumors we heard. There were moments of great tension in boats crammed with immigrants.” Tamayo remembers how, in the middle of the crossing, the tiny son of Aderelys Ofarril, the baby whose birth in the Turbo shelter made news, was covered by a wave and “miraculously” saved from drowning.

“When we though the worst was over, the Colombian sailors explained to us they couldn’t take us to the beach because it was Panamanian territory. They left us on the reefs, with water up to our chests. We had to carry the children and let the luggage get wet. Everything was soaked, including our documents.”

Yanela Vilche with her husband, Johans Tamayo, and their children, Fernanda and Fabio, in Quito, Ecuador.(Courtesy)
Yanela Vilche with her husband, Johans Tamayo, and their children, Fernanda and Fabio, in Quito, Ecuador.(Courtesy)

Once at the Panamanian border area they had to find the town of La Miel, where Cubans were gathering. “Some told us it was three days away, others that it was right there. We finally found the town and afterwards they let us continue toward Panama,” he explains.

“The problem now is that we have nowhere to go and no way to get there,” he says, troubled by the decision of the countries in the area to not allow the passage of “irregular” migrants, among whom are Cubans.

In an interview with 14ymedio, Costa Rica’s Minister of Communication, Mauricio Herrera Ulloa, explained that his government had not changed its policy toward irregular Cuban migrants. “In essence, the policy continues. We are not going to receive irregular migrants.”

Herrera explained that as of this week 173 Cubans had been administratively rejected and three were apprehended trying to enter the country surreptitiously. “Those who are arrested by the Police have several possibilities, which range from deportation to their country of origin to the granting of asylum, on a case by case basis.”

The minister was emphatic in stressing that his country would not negotiate a new airlift with Mexico. The Costa Rican government has asked the United States to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act (1966), and Washington has refused to do so. In response to a question from this newspaper regarding whether his government had discussed with Cuba the conditions that cause thousands of Cubans to try to escape the country every year, the minister said, ”There is no prospect that the existing situation is going to change.”

Panama’s Foreign Ministry declined to answer the same question. Panama Immigration explained that more and more migrants have been coming, but they are being dealt with in a controlled way, with between 100 and 150 taken to the capital. In statements to this newspaper, the director general of Panama Immigration, Javier Carrillo, explained that if migrants enter the country in an irregular manner, the law is clear. “We are not going to allow anyone to remain in our territory without having documents. We will initiate the process for deportation to the country of origin, to Colombia or to the country they came from on leaving their own.”

At the same time, Carrillo explained the Controlled Flow program: “A humanitarian operation for people continue their journey to the north, as the Haitians do. In the case of Cubans they want to stay and exert pressure for an airlift, something that isn’t going to happen.”

With regards to Costa Rica’s policy on returning migrants, the official explained that “this is not Panama’s issue.”

“They have to know how to continue, because when they started this journey they knew they would have to pass through many countries irregularly,” he added.

It is Wednesday. The temperature in the capital of Panama is close to 85 degrees. Fernanda and Fabio are playing on the floor, thousands of miles from home. Along with their parents, they dream of stepping on US soil “to reach freedom.”

“If they refuse to let us pass in Tapachula and return us to Cuba, at least we have done our best so that our children can live in a free world.”

UNPACU Reaches 5th Anniversary Amid Achievements And Criticisms / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 24 August 2016 – Five years can be a long time in Cuba, when we’re talking about an opposition organization. In the complex kaleidoscope of dissident groups and parties that make up civil society on the island, many are active for only a few months or languish amid repression and illegality. The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) will reach its fifth anniversary on Wednesday with several of its initial objectives completed and others still in progress.

While the Cuban government classifies all opponents as “enemies” of the nation and “hirelings of the Empire,” UNPACU members have preferred to describe themselves in their own words. They consider themselves “a citizens’ organization and a pro-democracy and progressive social movement” interested in “freedom, sovereignty and prosperity.” Their epicenter is the city of Santiago de Cuba and other areas in Eastern Cuba, although they also have a presence in Havana. continue reading

Organized around their leader and most visible head, Jose Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU was born in 2011 after the process of the release of the last prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring, among whom was Ferrer. Ferrer’s prior experience was in the ranks of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), which was vital for his own political development, according to what he has said in several interviews.

Over the years, several faces have stood out in UNPACU’s ranks, such as the young Carlos Amel Oliva, who recently led a hunger strike in protest of the arbitrary arrests and confiscations of personal belongings. However, UNPACU has also suffered, like the rest of the country, the constant exodus of its members through the refugee program offered by the United States Embassy and other paths of emigration.

Among those who have decided to stay on the island, is Lisandra Robert, who never imagined she would join an opposition organization. Her future was to be a teacher, standing in front of a classroom and reviewing mathematical formulas and theories. However, her studies at Frank Pais Garcia University of Teaching Sciences ended all of a sudden when she refused to serve as an undercover agent for State Security. The “mission” they demanded of her was to report on the activities of several activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, among them two of her family members.

Today, Robert is a member of UNPACU, and although she started with the group as an independent journalist, with the passing of time she has addressed the issue of political prisoners. “At first it was hard, because the neighbors participated in the acts of repudiation, they wouldn’t look at us or speak to us.” Something has changed because “now they are the ones most supportive of us.”

Among the characteristics that distinguish the work of UNPACU is the use of new technologies. Through copies on CDs, USB memory sticks or external hard discs, Cubans have seen the acts of repudiation from the point of view of the opponents who have been victims of them, and they have even used tools such as Twitter, which they teach in their Santiago headquarters.

“This is a way to bring more people to all the work we do and they receive it with love and great appreciation, because we also include news that doesn’t appear in the national media,” says Robert.

Zaqueo Báez’s face became known during the mass Pope Francis offered in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution last September. Along with other colleagues, the current UNPACU coordinator in Havana approached the Bishop of Rome and demanded the release of the political prisoners. This Tuesday he told 14ymedio that he felt “very proud” of belonging to the movement dedicating “great efforts” to “social work undertaken directly with people to involve those most in need.”

Jose Daniel Ferrer, on a visit to Miami, said he was satisfied by what has been achieved and feels that “in its first year UNPACU was already the opposition organization with the most activists in Cuba.” The figure of 3,000 members stated publicly has been a center of controversy, such as that sustained between Ferrer and Edmundo Garcia, a Cuban journalist living in Florida. On this occasion, Garcia asked sarcastically, “How many people (from UNPACU) can you introduce me to?”

Garcia also questioned the organization’s source of funding and said the United States government was the main source, through the National Endowment for Democracy. Ferrer openly acknowledged that part of the funding comes from the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) and what he describes as “generous contributions from Cuban exiles.”

Former political prisoner Felix Navarro belonged to UNPACU, but said he had left the group “without grievance, without separation.” He considers it “the most representative organization in opposition to Castro within the Cuban nation.” In addition, “it is in the street and has created a very positive mechanism from the point of view of the information to immediately find out what is happening every minute.”

For José Daniel Ferrer one of the biggest challenges is to achieve “a capable and committed leadership” because many activists “scattered on the island don’t do better activism because of not having good leadership.” The limitation on resources such as “equipment, disks, printers and the money it takes to bring more people into the work of spreading information” also hinders the action of training, he adds.

The dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua considers UNPACU to be “one of the most active organizations, especially in non-violent protests in the streets, bringing light and giving relief to the demands of ordinary people.” A result of this activism is that in April of this year the number of political prisoners belonging to the organization rose to 40 people.

When Jose Daniel Ferrer was asked if UNPACU can remain active without him in the personal leadership position that has characterized Cuban political movements, he responds without hesitation: “It has been demonstrated very clearly in my absence.”

Voices In Cuba’s Official Press Question Dismissal Of Radio Holguin Journalist / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Journalist Aixa Hevia, vice president of UPEC and expelled journalist Jose Ramon Ramirez Pantoja. (Mounting 14ymedio)
Journalist Aixa Hevia, vice president of UPEC and expelled journalist Jose Ramon Ramirez Pantoja. (Montage 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 27 August 2016 — Jose Ramirez Pantoja, the journalist recently fired from Holguin Radio, never imagined that some colleagues from the official press would come to his support. This unusual situation has arisen following the statements by the vice president of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), Aixa Hevia, who in an article titled “If It Quacks Like a Duck,” attacked the correspondent, insinuating that he was trying to create a back story so that he could “move to the Miami press.”

Hevia did not leave it there, but also suggested expelling from CubaUruguayan journalist Fernando Ravsberg for coming to the defense of the ousted journalist from Holguin, which has provoked pandemonium in the “Revolutionary blogosphere.” continue reading

After two months of silence, since his internet account was suspended, Ramirez published a new article on his blog Verdadecuba under the title “Where is the ethics of Aixa Hevia?” In the article he not only expresses his appreciation for the solidarity of his colleagues across the island, but castigates the “ugly, low and irresponsible” attitude of UPEC’s vice president.

In early August, the ethics committee of the Association of Official Journalists expelled Ramirez Pantoja from his job and deprived him of the right to exercise his profession. His sin: having published the words of the deputy director of the official Party newspaper Granma on his personal blog.

“ ‘If it quacks like a duck…’* my grandmother used to say, when behind certain events the real intentions were visible,” Hevia wrote in reference to Jose Ramirez, insinuating later that this was how a journalist sought to “cross over” to the Miami media.

“The accusation launched against me in this venomous and repulsive commentary by the first vice president of UPEC is ugly, low and irresponsible,” responded Ramirez, who in a conversation with 14ymedio explained that he was unaware of the impact of that had been generated by the measure taken against him. “Once I was expelled from the media they cut off my internet access. Thanks to a friend I heard about what was happening,” he said.

According to Ramirez, many colleagues in the profession have openly supported his cause. “The profession has shown a lot of solidarity, especially in other parts of the country. In Holguin there are no comments for or against it because the actions taken have made the journalists afraid.”

In this Friday’s publication, Ramirez cited Arnaldo Mirabal Hernández, from the newspaper Girón, in Matanzas, who said that the fact that “perhaps tomorrow Pantojo will show up in some other media, whether in Florida or on Cochinchina [Vietnam], does not mean that he was not unjustly and arbitrarily expelled from the media, and that we of UPEC, far from defending him, we injure him.”

For the journalist from Holguin this experience has opened his eyes to the need for another kind of journalism on the island, “more serious, closer to the people, to people’s needs, to the problems that affect individuals.”

With regards to his case, Ramirez explains that he is confident that justice will finally triumph and everyone’s interests would become clear. “If the court rules against me, I will look for another job. I will work in something, even if it is not journalism, but I don’t know how I will make a living. If the court rules in my favor, even then I don’t know what I will do.”

Ramirez says it is impossible to consider Hevia’s declarations as something separate from the journalists’ organization. “When they sanctioned me they told me that even though the blog where I published Karina Marron’s words was personal, I was still a Radio Holguin journalist and so the same responsibility applies to Hevia,” he added.

According to the journalist, Hevia’s intentions are clear: to prejudge the National Ethics Committee that is considering his case. “She is not just any journalist, behind all of this that she wrote are very bad intentions.”

Karina Marron, deputy director of the official newspaper Granma has not commented on what happened with Ramirez Pantoja.

Fernando Ravsberg published an article entitled “Journalists, Bad News And Expulsions,” in which he claims that the campaign against his blog, Cartas desde Cuba, “is going to extremes.” Although he affirms that it is not about a personal matter, he regrets that “the extremists spend years trying to stop the development of the new journalism that is being born, including within the official media.”

*Translator’s note: The original expression in Cuban Spanish is: If it is green and spiky it’s a soursop.

First Conference On Internet Freedom In Cuba To Be Held In Miami / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

A group of young people connect to the internet in a wifi zone in Havana. (EFE)
A group of young people connect to the internet in a wifi zone in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 24 August 2016 – This coming 12-13 September, independent Cuban journalists will meet with digital innovators and individuals who are fighting to open the island to the World Wide Web. This first conference on the use of the internet in Cuba is being organized by the Office of Cuban Broadcasting (OCB), which operates Radio and TV Martí. The event will be free and open to the public.

One of the pillars of “The Martís” (as OCB’s media are known on the island), is free access to the internet in countries where the right is censored, as is the case in Cuba,” explained Maria (Malule) Gonzales, OCB’s director. continue reading

According to Gonzalez, the event will be something new because it will not be Miami Cubans teaching islanders about the internet, but more than 20 experts in different areas who will come exclusively to share their knowledge and experience with the use of the network in Cuba.

“We are looking, first of all, to provide the ABCs of internet use in Cuba, and also to present the ‘offline’ internet that people on the island have developed: applications, informal information networks, among other things,” she explains.

The Office of Cuban Broadcasting is an institution funded by the US government in order to break the government monopoly on information in Cuba. For more than 30 years it has managed Radio Martí, later adding a television signal, both of which are bones of contention between the Cuban government, which wants their elimination, and the US government which funds them.

“Our first means of distribution is Radio Martí, but shortwave use is declining in Cuba. The digital world is gaining tremendous momentum,” said Gonzalez, hence the interest of the enterprise to enhance its digital portal.

The conference will include different sessions, among them universal access to the internet as a human right, the work of social networks and dissidence and activism in the digital era, as well as covering different Cuban media from outside the island.

Among the speakers from Cuba will be Eliecer Avila, president of the Somos+ Movement (We Are More), and Miriam Celaya, freelance journalist. In addition, professors Ted Henken and Larry Press will attend, along with Ernesto Hernández Busto, manager of the blog Penúltimos Días, and Karl Kathuria.

For Celaya, the meeting in Miami will be an occasion to show that journalism on the island has its own voice. “We are in a process of maturation. Independent journalism in Cuba was not born yesterday, but is the result of an evolutionary process. Right now, the conditions are ripe to accelerate it,” she said.

Cuba ranks among the countries with the poorest internet access in the world. According to official sources, about 30% of the Cuban population has been on the wireless networks that the government has installed in parks and downtown streets of some cities. Only two provinces have wifi in all municipalities, and prices remain very high for the average Cuban, at two CUC per hour, in a country with an average wage equivalent to about 20 CUC a month.

Social Networks Respond To Randy Alonso: I-Am-Not-Ex-Cuban / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

#YoNoSoyExCubano: Milkos Danilo Sosa Molina, a young Cuban resident in Miami responds to Randy Alonso. (Courtesy)
#YoNoSoyExCubano: Milkos Danilo Sosa Molina, a young Cuban resident in Miami responds to Randy Alonso. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 19 August 2016 — A recent comment by official journalist Randy Alonso has generated a number of protests on social networks.

The well-known Cuban TV host questioned the nationality of the Cuban athlete Orlando Ortega, who won silver medal competing for Spain at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

On the Roundtable program, which he moderates on Cuban State TV, Alonso dedicated a segment to Cuba’s performance in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and spoke about the “controversial elements” in that sporting event, mentioning the case of “the ex-Cuban Orlando Ortega who is going to compete for Spain, and other cases of athletes who have jumped from one country to another.” The journalist placed his speech in the context of a supposed controversy “that today animates the international sports scene, tempered by the growing influence of money.” continue reading

In conversation with14ymedio, Milkos Danilo Sosa Molina, a young Cuban who lives in Miami, said he was “outraged” by the moderator’s words. “Nobody has the right to deny the nationality of a single person because they do not want to live in their own country,” he said.

Molina calls on young Cubans abroad to use the hashtag #YoNoSoyExcubano (I Am Not Ex-Cuban) in response to what her considers Randy Alonso’s “unacceptable attitude.”

“They consider us to be Cubans for some things and not for others. They want Cubans to be only those who think like them and live in Cuba, but the odd thing is that to enter your country they consider you a Cuban and demand that you use a national passport. In this way they get hundreds of dollars out of you,” he comments.

Other social network users on Facebook, such as Norges Rodriguez, following the logic of Randy Alonso, have questioned the nationality of Henry Reeve and Maximo Gomez for having left their country and fought with foreign armies for the freedom of other countries. Fernando Alvarez wrote #YoNoSoyExCubano, I was born in Cuba, I am and will be 100% Cuban wherever I am!”

The Roundtable is a television program that began in December 1999 amid the Cuban government’s campaign for the repatriation of Elian Gonzalez. It airs Monday through Friday and was a favorite of Cuban president Fidel Castro, who regularly spoke for hours on the program.

This newspaper tried to access the program mentioned in the official website of the Roundtable, but it has been removed from the YouTube platform in the United States at the request of the International Olympic Committee for violating copyright. Cuban television commonly uses audiovisual content belonging to third parties without paying for the services.

Cuban Migrants Trapped In Panama Have Nowhere To Go / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cubans crossing the Darien jungle to get to Panama. (Courtesy to ’14ymedio’)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 18 August 2016 — After escaping deportation in Colombia, some 650 Cubans managed to cross the border through the Darien jungle area and are now in the Panamanian town of La Miel. They have been assisted by the Panamanian government’s “Controlled Flow” operation, and may continue their journey but face an uncertain route affected by the decision of the countries of the region to deny them passage.

“Costa Rica is a supportive country, but it has no ability to receive more migrants,” Maurice Hererra Ulloa, the nation’s Minister of Communications told 14ymedio. “Some 66 Cubans have been returned to Panama. Our message is clear: Costa Rica is not going to receive them. The border with Nicaragua remains absolutely closed and there will be no way to get to the United States.” continue reading

Herrera made it clear that his country would not provide transportation of any kind for these Cubans and would not make efforts to get them to the United States. The same applies for transcontinental and Haitian migrants. “If they reach the border of Costa Rica they will be turned back immediately,” he says.

Panama’s Minister of Security Alexis Betancourt told this newspaper that his country’s border with Colombia remains closed, but it is permitted to shelter those who have penetrated the jungle because “we will not let anyone die.”

“They are illegal in Panama, in Colombia and throughout the Central American corridor. Those who come to our borders by normal means are not allowed to pass. In our country migration is not a crime, but they should not be here. For those who come through the jungle and run that risk, we will offer humanitarian aid,” he explains.

The minister also reported that the flow of Cubans right now is relatively low compared to the number seen during the first months of the year. So far this year, Panama has undertaken two humanitarian operations to transfer more than 5,000 Cubans who were stranded in their territory.

“We want to make it clear that we recommend that they do not go through the Darien jungle where there are dangerous animals, violence and disease,” says Betancourt.

“We are investigating the matter of the bodies that have been found. It could be that there are some in the lowlands of the mountain range, but those that have been documented are on the rise, which is an area belonging to Colombia,” he adds.

With regards to the 72 hours granted to Cubans to leave Panamanian territory, the minister said that “it would be advisable not to come” and that his government is not responsible for people who decide to go into the jungle.

“Those Cubans we find are taken to one of three camps that we have set up,” where they are provided with medical care, food and water. “We then explain to them the conditions of the camp, where they can bathe and rest. We take their fingerprints, and interview them and they pay their own passage to the border.”

Ubernel Cruz, one of the Cubans in the village of La Miel, said that the situation there “is getting ugly.”

“Most of these people do not have money and those who do have are afraid of getting into contact with the coyotes. Nobody knows exactly what will happen to us, although 75 a day are leaving.”

On the opposite border, the Costa Rican side, is Cuban Yunior Peñate. He is in the village of Peñas Altas, hidden along with six other migrants.

According to Peñate’s account, he sent friends in the United States more than $2,000, the result of seven years of work in Ecuador, with the aim that they would help him during the trip, sending money for each segment of the journey. But once the money was in the hands of his “friends” they never wrote him again.

He has suffered two assaults while trying to cross Nicaragua.

“I had to return here (Costa Rica). A family took us in and thanks to them we have food and shelter. In gratitude we work on everything they need done here. We do not know how long this situation is going to last,” he explains.

“If Costa Rica finds you in their territory they deport you to Panama, where you can’t be either. Nicaragua doesn’t let us pass. The only option is cross in hiding, but there is a lot of fear,” explains the young migrant whose destination is the United States.

The blockade on the borders of Central America to prevent the passage of Cuban, Haitian and transcontinental immigrants is feeding the underground networks of human trafficking. Several countries have asked the United States to eliminate the privileges enjoyed by migrants from Cuba, who are immediately welcomed when they step onto American soil.

The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba and other exile groups have said that such statements “reflect a significant ignorance” of the true causes of Cuban emigration. “They focus their attention on the differential treatment of these migrants in the destination country, ignoring the incredible and exceptional disadvantages of these citizens in the country of departure,” the foundation explains.

Six Cuban Boat People Still Missing In The Gulf Of Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Rafters missing along the Mexican coast. (14ymedio)
Rafters missing along the Mexican coast. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 17 August 2016 — Thirteen men were determined to leave the misery, despair and weariness of lives filled with official propaganda. For months they crafted a boat on the cost of the Isle of Youth, off Cuba’s southern coast. In absolute secrecy to avoid being betrayed, they prepared a catamaran and stocked it with food and water. They wanted to get to Central America or Mexico, to continue their journey overland to the United States, an ever more frequented route, but a month and a half later they are still missing at sea.

Noyri Muñoz, a Cuban, 47, who is the sister of one of the rafters, explains that, of the 13, only seven have returned to Cuba, deported from Mexico a month ago. On returning to their own country, they do not want to talk to the press nor with the families of the missing. Their silence is more eloquent. Of then other six, there is no news. “The sea is so vast, perhaps it swallowed them,” she commented from Spain, where she lives. continue reading

The weeks pass and the fear grows that the worst has happened. “They left at dawn. They were from different towns on the Isle of Youth. They bought a good quality engine and set sail for Mexico,” explained Muñoz, so said that for 15 days they “didn’t see land anywhere” and decided to separate into two groups to increase their chances of being found.

When the engine gave out they continued to paddle and use the sail they carried, but they didn’t seem to make much headway, so they decided to separate, according to the version of one of the young boys who was on the boat,” added the sister.

“Three days after we separated a boat found us,” explained one of the rafters in Mexico to a family member of the missing. According to this testimony, half of the group left with eight inner tubes, in search of better luck. They divided the biscuits and the water. Since then, they don’t know anything more about them.

The same rafter explained in Mexico that at least four boats passed them and didn’t help them. The drifting boaters were finally rescued by the supply vessel MV Fugro Vasilis, 130 miles from Arrecife Alacranes, north of the Yucatan Peninsula.

“My brother was an economist for a state enterprise. He was a fighter, intelligent, a man always looking for solutions to problems. He was very creative. We are desperate, because we don’t have any information. We have tried to communicate with the Navy and the Mexican Army and US but without success,” says Muñoz.

The lives of the rafters could have been seriously threatened by Hurricane Earl in early August in the Western Caribbean. The number of rafters has significantly increased this year. According to the United States Coast Guard, from 1 October 2015 to 15 July 2014, 5,241 Cuban rafters have tried to reach the coast of the United States.

The names of the missing are José Armando Muñoz López, Luis Velásquez Osorio, Rafael Rives Rives, Yoendry Rives del Campo, Amauri Pupo Pupo and Juan Antonio Pupo Pupo.

Humor and Exile Combine in the Sketches of Several Cuban Cartoonists / 14ymedio, Mario J. Penton

“Not even with self-employment?” (Santana) Courtesy of the author
“Not even with self-employment?” (Santana) Courtesy of the author

14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, 31 July 2016 – “The cartoons are not what gives the cartoonist the most laughter but how much they were made to pay for them,” joked Ley Martinez, one of the five cartoonists invited to the Independent Art and Literature Festival in Miami this Saturday to talk about exile cartoon humor, their experiences and outlooks.

The graphic artists Aristide (Aristides Miguel Pumeriega), Garrincha (Gustavo Rodriguez), Pong (Alfredo Pong), Ley Martinez and Omar Santana spoke about their work for more than an hour with about a hundred people. They remembered the years of work in Cuba when publishing a cartoon could cost them a job. continue reading

“At the end of the eighties, there came a Soviet journalist from Pravda who was interested in interviewing me because of a cartoon I had made called ‘The Bobocracia.’ They were publishing it in Moscow as a demonstration of Cuba’s glastnost progress. What they got was the next week I was prohibited from going on with that work,” remembered Aristide.

The limitations of the profession’s practice on the Island impelled many of them to create their art outside of the country. Nevertheless, censorship also is present on the other side of the Florida Straits. “Miami is a very prudish city. There are problems with placing sexual symbols in the cartoons. In important media outlets they are very careful with so-called obscene words. But in the end, there exists freedom of creation. It is another type of censorship, but it, too, is censorship,” said Santana.

For Ley Martinez, a graphic designer and cartoonist for eight years, the invitees to the meeting this Saturday represent a wide spectrum of styles and themes. “They have been, since Aristide, who is an emblematic figure in Cuban graphic art, ending with me taking the first steps in the genre.”

The artist shared his experience in the use of social networks for the spreading of his work and commented on the difference between those who stay in traditional press outlets and the young ones who use more virtual media. “We want to create an environment of opinion so that people understand from the art what is happening,” he added.

“Exiled Graphic Humor: Experiences and Outlooks” panel. (14ymedio)
“Exiled Graphic Humor: Experiences and Outlooks” panel. (14ymedio)

For Martinez, graphic humor in exile does not have to be limited to Cuba. “You can make local graphic humor. About the mayor of Miami or Hialeah. It is one way of raising awareness and states of mind,” he said.

Aristide, meanwhile, said that for him the cartoon is inextricably linked to the fight against the Cuban government: “I always wanted to come to Miami because it was the other side of the coin. I had to come to this city to continue the fight against the Cuban dictatorship that seized my son. That fight of the Cuban people means a lot to me.”

The artist, a veteran of the event, remembered the years in which he was persecuted because of his work on the Island, for which he had to exile himself in Miami. About the current state of the cartoon in south Florida, he lamented the decreasing presence of the cartoon in media outlets, especially those related to Cuba.

For Garrincha, the work of the graphic humorist should not be reduced to cartoons and political satire. “One should speak of the humor in the graphic and the graphic in the humor, and people should be open to other kinds of humor.”

The artist thinks that an interaction on humoristic themes is maintained between the Island and the Cubans of Miami. “Often I have found that they send me a cartoon by email from Cuba, and they tell me, look how good this is, and when I look, the cartoon is mine. The flow between shores is maintained.”

Among the attendees of the event was the Cuban writer Legna Rodriguez Iglesias, in addition to other artists and writers from the Island as well as from the diaspora.

“How not to come to an event like this? In the sketches of these artists each of us has seen a reflection of ourselves. Even Bobo de Abela has emigrated by now,” commented Elizabeth Diaz, one of those present.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Emigrant Must Earn Brownie Points to Enter Cuba / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 21 July 2016 — With blood-stained clothes and wounds and bruises on her arms, Ana Margarito Perdigon Brito returned to Miami from Havana’s Jose Marti Airport this past June. No one knew how to rationalize that the Cuban government prohibited her, a citizen of that country whose paperwork was in order, from entering the land of her birth.

“It is a form of revenge by the Cuban government towards emigrants. It is a type of blackmail by which, if you behave as they desire – which is to say, without being rebellious – you can enter your country; but if you dare to criticize the regime you may lose that right,” says the activist who left Cuba in 2012 in order to live in the US. continue reading

The Cuban exile, who lives in Homestead in south Florida, tried to enter Cuba for a second time in order to visit her sick mother in the Sancti Spiritus province. “The first time they turned me away at the Miami airport when I tried to fly to Santa Clara.   On this second occasion, they let me arrive in Havana, but once I was there, they told me I could not enter the country because, according to the system, I was prohibited entry into Cuba,” she says.

Her passport is up-to-date and valid with the corresponding renewals plus the authorization, an entrance permit for which Cubans living abroad pay and that supposedly has “lifelong” validity, although it can be nullified by Cuban officials.

She tried in vain to convince the immigration agents to let her speak with a supervisor or to explain to her by what rationale they impeded her access to a universal right. The answer was always the same: “The system indicates that you are prohibited entry. You must go back,” while they insisted that if she wanted to enter the country, she would have to seek a humanitarian visa.

The practice is not new; from Arturo Sandoval to Celia Cruz, a considerable number of Cubans have had to deal with the all-powerful Bureau of Immigration and Nationality in the last six decades in order to enter the Island. In many cases unsuccessfully as has happened to several people who could not even attend funerals for their parents. Many experts thought that with the new immigration law enacted in 2012, the situation would change, but it has not.

Perdigon believes that this is another sign of the Cuban government’s unscrupulousness as regards the diaspora. “They do not forgive me for the activism that I carried out within Cuba,” she explains.

Receiving no answer about her case, she tried to escape from the room where the immigration officials had taken her, and she was hit and wounded in a struggle. “I tried not to beg for my right but to win it [because] no one is obliged to obey unjust laws,” as Marti said.

Originally from the Sancti Spiritus province, she and her family belonged to several independent movements, joining political parties and initiatives favoring the promotion of human rights.

The passport of exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito (14ymedio)

The passport of exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito (14ymedio)
The passport of exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito (14ymedio)

“On many occasions we were repressed, and we suffered acts of repudiation. One afternoon, my little daughter came running in a fright to warn me that many screaming people were coming. It was an act of repudiation that they had prepared for me in the neighborhood. On another occasion, they gave us a tremendous beating in a town called Tuinucu and jailed us,” she remembers.

Her case is not unique. According to independent statistics compiled by media, dozens of similar stories have happened in recent years. Nevertheless, there are no official data about the number of Cubans who have been denied entry into the country.

“People do not demand their rights publicly, and they don’t denounce these arbitrary situations,” comments Laritza Diversent Cambara, manager of the Cubalex Legal Information Center, via telephone from Cuba. “When we go to review statistics, countries like Canada have more complaints about human rights violations than Cuba, and we all know that is because of ignorance or lack of information about demanding their rights, because if there is anything abundant in this country, it is human rights violations,” she contends.

According to the lawyer, denial of entry by nationals is not contemplated in Cuban legislation. “It is a discretionary decision by State Security or the Bureau of Immigration and Nationality, but there exist no laws that regulate it, so people are exposed to the whims and abuses of officials,” opines the jurist.

“They cannot give the reasons for which they deny entry into the country. They do not argue that he is a terrorist threat or that the person lacks some document or formality. It is simply an arbitrary decision,” she adds.

The practice is not limited only to dissidents, activists and opponents. Diversent says that her office handled the case of a rafter who left the Island in 2011 and who continued traveling regularly, until in 2015 the Cuban authorities told him that he could not enter the country again.

14ymedio has known of similar cases of journalists, members of religious orders and doctors who took refuge in the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) offered by the United States.

Exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito marching through the streets of Santa Clara (14ymedio)
Exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito marching through the streets of Santa Clara (14ymedio)

“One time I made some statements to a local newspaper in Spain about the hardship suffered by the Cuban people, and on return to the Island several officers confronted me in the airport, telling that if I did something like that again, they would revoke my temporary religious residency,” said a Spanish missionary who prefers for safety reasons not to be named.

The methods for preventing entry are as varied as the steps to take for immigration procedures in Cuba. There are people who have been denied passport authorization, as was the case of the well-known visual artist Aldo Menendez. On other occasions, Cubans are turned back at the last minute from the airport from which they tried to fly to the Island, as occurred to activist Ana Lupe Busto Machado, or they wait until they land in Havana after having spent 450 dollars on passport preparation, 20 dollars on the entrance permit or 180 dollars on the renewals, plus the price of passage from Miami which approaches 500 dollars, to tell them that they cannot ever enter their country again.

14ymedio tried to communicate with the Cuban Office of Immigration and Nationality, but authorities refused to respond to our questions.

“This kind of procedure should not surprise anyone,” says attorney Wilfredo Vallin, founder of the Cuban Law Association. “The government has a long history of actions that do not abide by its own law. Until recently wasn’t there in effect an express and unconstitutional prohibition against nationals entering hotels? What about human mobility within the Island? Isn’t that regulated, too?”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

“When we achieve justice we can build a new society” / 14ymedio, Ofelia Acevedo, Mario Penton, Luz Escobar

Note: The video is a brief excerpt from the interview and is not subtitled in English.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Luz Escobar, Miami, 22 July 2016 – His name is tattooed on the skin of a Cuban graffiti artist (Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto) or is suggested by the letter L, standing for Liberty, formed by the angle between the index finger and the thumb, increasingly displayed by those asking for democracy. The legacy of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (1952-2012) and Harold Cepero (1980-2012) lives on in the nation for which they worked their hearts out and ultimately sacrificed their lives. Four years after the tragic crash that claimed their lives, and that their families and international organizations have classified as a settling of accounts by the repressive Cuban apparatus, 14ymedio speaks with Ofelia Acevedo, widow of Payá, former president of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL).

14ymedio: A few days ago the one year anniversary of the reopening of the embassies between the United States and Cuba was celebrated. Could we be closer to justice in the case of Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá? continue reading

Acevedo: The restoration of diplomatic relations has been good. It is clear that it is the Cuban government that does not continue the normal process that this rapprochement should take. On the other hand, justice is the most important step to achieve real change in the Cuban nation. To look forward in our country we need justice. The Christian tradition makes it very clear: if there is a recognition of the truth, there will be justice and forgiveness.

Once we have achieved justice we can talk about reconciliation between Cubans. We Cubans must seek it, starting by reclaiming our rights. This is a key step for the future. The greatest injustice is to deprive the Cuban people of our rights, because of this there has been so much misery and we have not progressed. Human rights are natural and inherent in the person. When we achieve justice we can build a new society, and for this it is important that this crime does not go unpunished.

14ymedio: How has the family faced the loss of your husband?

Acevedo: We are a very close family. We love each other very much and miss him so much. We live in our faith that sustains us. Our faith makes us believe that truth, justice and democracy are possible for our people. All of Oswaldo’s work is imbued with a great deal of hope, of Christian hope. That is what helps us go on in the midst of the adverse environment in which we sometimes live. Oswaldo believed greatly in the betterment of humanity and in the individual, as José Martí said. He looked for ways to give Cubans the tools to decide their future. He understood that change begins with the ability to decide. He affirmed that dialog is the only way to change Cuba, an unconditional dialog, one without exclusions and among all Cubans.

14ymedio: How do you perceive the Cuban opposition four years after the death of its most prestigious leader?

Acevedo: In Cuba there are probably more opponents than there were in Central Europe in 1989. The Cuban opposition has done a great job. We know that the government and intelligence services create moles, “construct” figures, infiltrate groups, defame and blackmail their opponents. This has existed and does exist, they are intransigents with those who don’t think like they do and who have the courage to raise their voice to express it. We Cubans who want changes have to think for ourselves and think about others, think about the Cuban people. We have to forget about egos and go where the people are to explain what are the steps for them to begin to demand their own rights, because they are the ones who should decide. We have to be with the people in this.

14ymedio: What happened to the Christian Liberation Movement after the death of Oswaldo Payá?

Acevedo: The movement received a very strong blow with the death of Oswaldo and Harold. Even before, the persecutions against them were very strong. It was the movement that had the most political prisoners and they were all exiled to Spain without the option to stay. At this time, within Cuba, the MCL is decimated, is my impression. The repression against them is very strong.

14ymedio: How was the experience of exile for your family? Will you return to Cuba?

Acevedo: My family never thought of going into exile. After Oswaldo’s murder I made the decision to go into exile for my children, because State Security was focused on my oldest son. They prevented my daughter Rosa María from starting work at a research center where she already had a place. I panicked and decided to leave because of “them” (State Security). Friends, neighbors, everyone was terrorized, because the whole world knew what had happened and that they enjoy total impunity.

I am working as a teacher and wondering when I can return to my country. I want to return to Cuba, but I hope that things improve because it costs me a lot to have to face them. My rejection of them is huge. I know I have to deal with them but it’s very difficult, because of what they are doing, what they did, how they have made my family and our people suffer.

The car in which Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá were killed four years ago
The car in which Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá were killed four years ago

Acevedo: The only meeting I had with them was a week after Oswaldo’s funeral. They called me in to ask if I was going to ask from compensation from Angel Carromero [the leader of the youth organization New Generations of the Popular Party of Madrid, who was driving the car in which Payá died and who was convicted of manslaughter). I told them I would not accept their version and I wanted to talk with the survivors. They never granted me that. The Cuban penal code does not give the victims a chance. My children were not allowed to attend the trial, which the regime had announced would be public. There was an immense repression in Bayamo [where the trial was held]. We could not carry out any legal action because a lawyer friend of the family said there was no chance to demand anything because of the criminal code.

I asked the government and the hospital for the autopsy report. They have never given it to me. I spoke to State Security, with Legal Medicine. Everyone told me that the hospital had to give me the report. The hospital administration, at six in the evening, after I did whatever paperwork was possible, told me to send it to them by mail and gave me a telephone number. The number didn’t work and we are still waiting on the autopsy. I wrote to the minister of Public Health. Rosa María tried to deliver a letter to the Cuban embassy, but they wouldn’t even let her enter the diplomatic site. Then we sent the letter in Cuba and we we had a receipt for it, but they have never answered.

14ymedio: What did Aron Modig (former leader of the Swedish Christian Democrat Party youth organization who was also in the car at the time of the crash) say about the day he Payá and Harold died?

Acevedo: Modig maintains his position. He doesn’t remember anything until reaching the hospital. It is a selective loss of memory. To me there are things that bother me sometimes in the media, because they talk about an accident, when we all know that it was a murder. A report by the international organization The Human Rights Foundation and another by physics professors at Florida International University demonstrated that it is impossible for [the crash] to have happened in the way the Cuban State says it did.

14ymedio: What legacy have Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá left?

Acevedo: The blood of freedom fighters is the seed of free men. This applies to Harold, Oswaldo, to all who have given their lives for human rights. The blood of innocent people, those who give their lives for others, is not spilled in vain. They crashed Oswaldo’s cars* when he was in the street. We keep fighting to give the Cuban people the possibility of deciding, which was Oswaldo’s fight as well. The Cuban government, in exchange, fights to destroy Cubans’ hopes.

*Translator’s note: There was a similar incident with another vehicle Oswaldo Payá was traveling in prior to the fatal crash.

See also:

Rosa Maria Paya’s Press Conference on the Crash That Killed Her Father and Harold Cepero

Angel Carromero Details Car Crash That Killed Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero

Interview with Rosa Maria Paya / Lilianne Ruiz, Rosa Maria Paya

The Political Legacy of Oswaldo Paya / 14ymedio

Human Rights Foundation suggests “Direct Responsibility of the Cuban Regime” in the death of Paya / 14ymedio

Carromero’s Courage / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Surprising Sentence for Angel Carromero for the Deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in a Car Crash / Yoani Sanchez

Roberta Jacobson Queries the Castros’ Crime / Rosa Maria Paya

“The Tentacles of Castroism Are Long” / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Efrain Sanchez Mateo refuses to abandon his countrymen, whom he calls brothers. (14ymedio)
Efrain Sanchez Mateo refuses to abandon his countrymen, whom he calls brothers. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 13 July 2016 — Desolate, but firm and willing to continue fighting for Cubans, whom he calls “my brothers.” Thus, Efrain Sanchez Mateo defines himself after serving a sentence of five days in jail for allegedly assaulting a police officer during the eviction of Cuban migrants camped at El Arbolito Park in Quito, Ecuador.

“That was something they were planning for a long time, but they didn’t have the courage to do it. The turning point was our protest outside the Cuban consulate in Quito,” explained Sanchez Mateo. The unprecedented march in which hundreds of migrants repudiated the statement from the embassy accusing them of trying to score points to get political asylum “frightened the regime,” added the Cuban. continue reading

“How long are we going to continue supporting the Association of Cuban Resident in Ecuador (ACURE)? How long will we continue supporting the lies of an embassy that doesn’t represent us?” he says in a reference to the accusation of the pro-Castro association that accuses them of receiving money from abroad and “serving the interests of Miami.”

“If this inhumane action and violation of human rights committed by the Ecuadorian government in collusion with Cuban State Security has made something clear, it is that nobody has sustained and supported us from the outside,” he argues.

Mateo, a coordinator of Cuban migrants, says the presence of the Mambi or “Freedom” encampment, as he called their tents in the Quito park, had authorization from the police and the Ministry of Social Inclusion and they have evidence to prove it.

“We had been promised they would not intervene. We had an organization and lived in solidarity with other Cuban brothers and many who are still there, having no place to sleep, went to work and carried on the cause,” he comments.

Ecuador’s Vice Minister of the Interior, Diego Fuentes, told the press that it wasn’t exclusively about the Cubans, but “of migratory control that affects all citizens and all nationalities.” The official also explained that these controls sustain “a regular and responsible migratory flow” that will avoid the “abuse” of Ecuador’s image of universal citizenship and open doors, something that Mateo agrees with.

“The night the camp was evacuated, the police followed the same modus operandi as they used the first time when they evacuated the migrants from the around the Mexican embassy,” he explained. “They came at midnight and about two in the morning a large group of police and anti-riot troops evacuated the place. However, this time they used migration control as a pretext, so it could not be called an eviction, but it’s clear that the motive was xenophobia against Cubans,” he says.

Caricature by Bonil, El Universo, 11 July.
Caricature by Bonil, El Universo, 11 July.

“We men try to protect the women. We are beaten and threatened. Cuban State Security agents in plainclothes in among the Ecuadorian police tried to catch me. Every day I receive threats toward me and my family, because they believe it will make me abandon my brothers. I regret what happened, but I will not do that, neither those in Cuba nor those here,” he says.

Efrain Sanchez Mateo regrets that the Cuban community abroad has not shown their support for respect for the rights of their compatriots in Ecuador. “We have been beaten, our rights have been violated, we are trying to escape communism and they have left us on our own,” he laments.

“I call on the internal opposition in Cuba and those who fight for their freedom from exile. Do not leave the 75 Cubans who were deported to the island on their own. Do not let them fall back into the clutches of the government,” says Mateo says he is in contact with several of those who have been repatriated and has urged them to continue what they started in Ecuador.

At 3:30 am on Wednesday morning, a judge responsible for procedural rights and guarantees rejected the habeas corpus petition for 47 of the 48 Cubans being held at the Hotel Carrion. Yesterday afternoon a group of Ecuadorian and Cuban protestors demonstrated their support for the migrants with protest actions in front of the court. On Monday morning, Ecuador completed the second transfer of Cubans to their country of origin, bringing the number of those repatriated to 75.

“The Cubans in Ecuador could not possibly show more courage. We did everything possible, but the tentacles of Castroism are long,” he adds.

Cubans March Against Raul Castro In Ecuador / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 6 July 2016 — Hundreds of people went to the Cuban embassy in Quito in Monday with the purpose of “repudiating” President Raul Castro and recent statements issued by the embassy in which they were accused of “seeking points” to reach the United States.

“This is not about seeking points, but defending the truth. We fled a dictatorship, the longest this continent has ever had, so we condemn the Castros and we do so at in their own embassy. We have lost the fear,” Enrique Santana, one of the protesters, told 14ymedio. continue reading

“We stopped the traffic. The police guarded our way to the embassy. We wanted to deliver a statement of repudiation. There were about 500 people,” said another of the Cubans.

According to witnesses, the diplomatic representatives of the island accepted the document with the words of migrants who are spending the night at El Arbolito Park in Quito, after they were evicted by the police from a demonstration in front of the Mexican Embassy when they asked for humanitarian visas to enable them to reach the United States.

“They did it through a crack, but they accepted our demand,” said Jorge Sanchez, another of the protesters, who also says that “it was the first time” something happened.

“Yes, we are counterrevolutionaries. At the embassy it doesn’t matter that they mistreat us and even beat our children, so now we respond that we are not afraid,” said Efrain Sanchez Mateo, coordinator of the group. According to what Sanchez Mateo explained to this newspaper, his family on the island has been threatened by State Security because of his demonstrations in Ecuador. “They told me they’re going to deport me to Cuba. They are afraid of me,” he said.

In the document delivered to the embassy, Cubans say they have had to leave their country “because of the police corruption” there. They also reject the Cuban interference in Ecuador, manifested in the refusal of Ecuador to welcome more professionals from the island.

“The press release from the Cuban embassy in Ecuador demonstrated once again their intent to continue hiding the truth of a people who have been deceived for more than 50 years,” the document added. It also says that the Cuban people “starve while corrupt leaders engage in politics” and reminds that there is no democracy in Cuba, but rather a regime in that imposes orders that are not discussed.

Last week, hundreds of Cubans who were in La Carolina Park in Quito received permission from the municipality to move to El Arbolito Park, which since then is known as “the mambí encampment” or “the freedom encampment.”

Members of the X Cuba Movement participated in the demonstration Monday in solidarity with migrants and others in the Cuban community in Ecuador.

In 2008 when Ecuador ended the visa requirement for Cubans, the country became the largest springboard to cross the United States and hosted one of the largest communities of Cuban nationals abroad Island. The economic crisis facing the country, together with measures to discourage emigration, has led thousands of Cubans to remain undocumented in the country, so that they can go to the United States in order to benefit from the Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy that allows them to legally enter the country and facilitates their obtaining the residence.

In previous initiatives, more than 5,000 Cubans have delivered lists with their names to the embassies of Mexico and Canada to allow them to travel to their countries in order to follow the US border, but so far both countries have denied this request.