José Daniel Ferrer: “This Type Of Assault Does Not Discourage Us” / 14ymedio

Police also raided six properties of UNPACU members on Wednesday. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 March 2017 — The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, José Daniel Ferrer, was released Thursday after being detained for more than 24 hours. The opponent denounced an “increase in the repression” against the activists of his movement, in a phone call to 14ymedio a few minutes after his release.

“The search of the homes began at six in the morning,” explains Ferrer, who was taken out of his home at eight o’clock in the morning this Wednesday and taken to the First Police Unit of Santiago de Cuba, known as Micro 9.

The former prisoner of the Black Spring explains that the police raided six properties of UNPACU members. They seized “food, a hard disc, several USB memories, two laptops, five cellphones, seven wireless devices, a stereo, a large refrigerator, an electric typewriter and a camera.” continue reading

“I spent more than six hours in an office with a guard,” Ferrer recalls. “Then they put me in a cell where you could have filmed a horror movie for the amount of blood on the walls of someone who had been cut.”

On 18 December at least nine houses of members of the opposition movement were searched and numerous personal belongings seized by members of the Ministry of the Interior

The dissident was interrogated by an official who identified himself as Captain Quiñones, who threatened to send him to prison for “incitement to violence,” in a recent video posted on Twitter. Ferrer flatly denies the accusation.

During the operation they also confiscated medications such as aspirin, duralgine, acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

“Most of our activists are in high spirits,” says Ferrer. “This type of assault does not discourage us,” he adds. He says that “from November 2015 to date, there have been more than 140” raids of houses of members of the organization.

On 18 December, at least nine houses of members of the opposition movement were searched and numerous personal belongings seized by members of the Ministry of Interior.

Among those who still have not been released are the activists Jorge Cervantes, coordinator of UNPACU in Las Tunas, and Juan Salgado, both of whom are being held in the third police unit in that eastern city. The whereabouts of opponent Esquizander Benítez remain unknown. In addition, about 50 of UNPACU’s militants are being held in several prisons in the country, which makes the it the opposition organization with the most political prisoners in the country.

Police Forces Assault UNPACU Headquarters, Activists Arrested / 14ymedio

The police clear a house of members of UNPACU (@patriotaliud)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 March 2017 — The headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) were assaulted by police forces in the early hours of Wednesday. The troops forcibly entered five homes located in the Altamira and José María Heredia areas in Santiago de Cuba, where they arrested a dozen opponents, according to opposition sources.

Two buildings that operate as UNPACU headquarters and three belonging to members of the movement were the object of a wave of searches carried out by agents of the political police and brigades of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR).

The homes were “looted” simultaneously according to activist Ernesto Oliva Torres, who reported that at the main headquarters the troops confiscated “a refrigerator, a television, two laptops, six cordless phones, among other items.” continue reading

Two buildings that operate as UNPACU headquarters and three belonging to members of the movement were the object of a wave of searches carried out by agents of the political police

The searches were accompanied by arbitrary arrests and the interruption of the telephone communications of most of the UNPACU activists.

Among those arrested on Wednesday morning were Liettys Rachel Reyes, Carlos Amel Oliva and his father Carlos Oliva, Alexei Martínez, Ernesto Morán, Juan Salgado, Roilán Zamora, Yriade Hernández, Jorge Cervantes and his wife Gretchen, David Fernández, Miraida Martín, and the national coordinator of the movement, José Daniel Ferrer.

14ymedio was able to confirm that Carlos Amel Oliva was released on Wednesday night, but several of the dissidents remain incommunicado. Oliva’s telephone line had serious problems that prevented the dissident from communicating with the press.

Liettys Rachel Reyes, 30 weeks pregnant, was under arrest for about three hours and then released. The whereabouts of the rest of the detainees remain unknown.

Cuban Human Rights Group Denounces The Death Of A Political Prisoner Pending Trial / 14ymedio

Hamel Santiago Maz Hernández had been in prison for eight months pending trial. (CCDHRN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 March 2017 — The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) has denounced the death of political prisoner Hamel Santiago Maz Hernández, an activist from UNPACU, who died* on February 24 at Combinado del Este prison in Havana. The opponent had been imprisoned for eight months without trial for the alleged offense of contempt.

The CCDHRN has released its report for the month of February in which it says that “there have been thousands of cases of Cubans killed in government custody,” a situation for which the authorities bear all the “moral and legal responsibility.” continue reading

The report includes the 482 arbitrary arrests of dissidents last month, a “slightly higher figure than in January.”

The CCDHRN also documented 16 cases of physical aggression and 18 of harassment, “by the secret political police and para-police agents,” with the victims being peaceful opponents, adds the report.

The report includes the 482 arbitrary detentions of dissidents last month, a “slightly higher figure than in January”

The text clarifies that, given “the closed nature of the regime that has ruled Cuba for almost 60 years,” it is “impossible to record the thousands of violations of fundamental rights” that occur throughout the island each month.

Nevertheless, it reports that the Ladies in White and the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) are once again the organizations most repressed. In the case of the women’s organization, they have been “subjected to humiliations and other abuses” over and over. For its part, 54 members of the UNPACU “are political prisoners, most of whom remain imprisoned without formal charges or pending trial.”

During 2016, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented 9,940 arbitrary detentions. This figure “places the Government of Cuba in the first place in all of Latin America,” according to the independent organization.

*Translator’s note: Cuban State Security informed his wife that he died of a heart attack.

Police Raid the House of Activist Belkis Cantillo in Palmarito Del Cauto / 14ymedio

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, reported the raid on the home of Belkis Cantillo, leader of the Citizens for Democracy movement. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 January 2017 — At six on Saturday morning the police raided the house of Belkis Cantillo, leader of the Citizens for Democracy movement in Palmarito del Cauto, Santiago de Cuba. The officers showed up a few hours after about a dozen women of the organization walked to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, as reported to 14ymedio by Jose Daniel Ferrer, coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

The opposition leader said that on Friday the activists arrived at the church consecrated to the Virgin of Charity, patroness of Cuba, “with the intention of reclaiming the space that the political police have taken away from us in the Sanctuary.” This morning the police entered Cantillo’s house in the municipality Mella “where elderly people and children live,” says Ferrer. continue reading

“Several witnesses report that the political police arrested a 19-year-old girl who is six months pregnant, Martha Beatriz Ferrer Cantillo,” said Ferrer, former prisoner of the Black Spring. He adds that “the telephones of family members have been siezed, so it has become impossible to communicate with them.”

Citizens for Democracy is a group formed by women and founded in September 2014. Its members are residents in the towns of Palma Soriano, Palmarito del Cauto and the city of Santiago de Cuba. The fundamental demands of the organization focus on respect for human rights and civic liberties.

Last year, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented a total of 9,940 arbitrary arrests in the country, a figure that “puts the Government of Cuba in first place in all of Latin America,” said the report of the independent organization.

Activist Abandons Hunger Strike After Promise Of Not Being Deported To His Home Province / 14ymedio

Vladimir Martín Castellanos, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 January 2017 — Vladimir Martín Castellanos, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), abandoned his hunger strike this Monday after the authorities promised that he would not be deported from Las Tunas to Santiago de Cuba, as confirmed by the Castellanos himself to 14ymedio. continue reading

The activist remained 32 days without food in his fight to register himself in the civil registry of Puerto Padre where his wife, Ileana Marrero, resides. Beforehand and on various occasions, the Security of State intercepted him when he attempted to register.

On Monday, an officer who identified himself as Captain Miguelito, visited Castellanos’ wife and promised her he would be allowed to reside in the municipality. Upon hearing the news, Castellanos decided to end his hunger strike.

“I feel very weak and began drinking soup” to regain strength, he commented to this newspaper. “I would like to continue my fight and stay with the Unpacu,” explained the activist.

Martín Castellanos, 53, believes that “the authorities will follow through” this time, but notes that they did not provide him an official document confirming the decision. A family member of the activist is arranging tickets to “travel early tomorrow toward Puerto Padre.”

Translated by Chavely Garcia

Washington Closes The Escape Valve / 14ymedio

Cuban rafters arrive in Florida / Archive. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 January 2017 — Matilde sold her home just two weeks ago to pay for the immigration route to the United States. Thursday, the hope of achieving her dreams burst when president Barack Obama put an end to the wet foot/dry foot policy that granted legal residency to Cubans who reached the United States.

The news dropped like a bombshell on the island. “My family is desperate, having put all their hopes in this journey,” the retired woman told 14ymedio. With a son living in New Jersey, the woman planned to travel at the end of this month to Mexico and cross the border “to the land of freedom.”

Since the death of former president Fidel Castro, no other event has so shaken the Cuban reality. The announcement this Thursday affected many who normally live their lives outside politics and official issues. “I feel as if someone had snatched away my lifejacket in the middle of the sea,” said Matilde. continue reading

Attorney Wilfredo Vallín, of the Cuban Legal Association, believes that the decision is “something that belongs to the sovereignty of a State.” In 1995, during the Bill Clinton administration, the policy was approved that today “is considered opportune to change,” but “the repercussions of that in other countries is a problem of other governments.”

“It has been said that these facilities provided by the US Government encouraged emigration and now a part of the argument is over”

The attorney maintains that what happened transcends the issue of migration and touches the pillars of the ideological propaganda of the Plaza of the Revolution. “It has been said that these facilities provided by the US government encouraged emigration and now that part of the argument is over.” For Vallín the decision could “increase discontent among citizens.”

The end of this immigration policy comes at a bad time for the government of Raúl Castro. Last year closed with a stagnant economy that experienced a fall of 0.9% in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For those most affected by hardship and the high cost of living, the possibility of emigration to the United States was a source of permanent illusion.

However, the ruling party has welcomed a new era. Josefina Vidal, the director general for the United States in Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the national media that with this suspension, “the migration crisis between Cuba and the United States is eliminated.” The end of the wet foot/dry foot policy has been a old demand of the government of the island, which has also pressed to end the Parole program for Cuban health professionals, a measure that was also suspended this Thursday.

“With these measures, Cubans who believed they could find prosperity and wellbeing in the United States will have to find another solution,” reflects opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Cuban Patriotic Union (Unpacu).

In a telephone conversation with this newspaper from eastern Cuba, Ferrer says now begins a stage of “thinking more about how to obtain freedom, prosperity, opportunities and rights here in our own land.” The scenario that opens “will make us much more responsible and aware that we must take the reins of our destiny as a people and as a nation here within.”

In front of the University of Havana, Ramon, 48, reflects on the possible repercussions of what happened. “Every time the popular disagreement reached a high point, the government managed to calm it by opening up emigration,” he says. “Now we are all unable to get out of this pressure cooker that is always getting hotter.”

“Political refugee status is too serious, too honorable for it to continue to function as it has until now”

Activist Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) movement, considers it an “excellent” decision. “The refugee status for political reasons is something too serious, too honorable for it to continue to function as it has so far,” he reflects. “Any measure that makes Cubans take more responsibility for their nation instead of fleeing it is something that should be supported.”

For opposition member Manuel Cuesta, a member of the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD), the elimination of this policy “should have been taken long ago to avoid the type of risky emigration that has resulted in the loss of the lives of young people, children and whole families.”

He acknowledges, however, that the decision is “controversial because those who were preparing their raft to leave early this morning have just been dissuaded in a way that cannot be appealed.” It is likely that “Trump is applauding the measure,” he said.

Cuba’s New Minister of the Interior Inaugurates His Tenure With a Repressive Wave Across the Country / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla, Cuba’s new Minister of the Interior, has unleashed a fierce crackdown across the country (ACN/ Marcelino Vázquez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 11 January 2017 — While in the United States Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, made it clear that human rights will be an important part of Washington’s policy toward Cuba, the island’s police forces carried out repressive actions in different parts of the country.

“The increase in repression is due to several causes, among them a push that the government is making in the last days of Barack Obama’s administration to make it clear to Trump that they do not care about the policy change he has announced towards Cuba,” said José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu) speaking from Santiago de Cuba. continue reading

Ferrer denounced the arrest of Jesús Romero and Alexis Rodríguez, activists of his organization who were accused of “posting an opposition sign in the center of the city.”

Among Unpacu members recently detained are also its coordinator, Ovidio Martín Castellanos, and the singer Yuniel Aguilera.

“After the death of his brother, Raul Castro needs to increase terror levels to maintain power,” says Ferrer, who says the government is willing to do anything to eliminate any hint of dissent.

“The increase in repression is due to the push the government is making in the last days of Barack Obama’s administration to make clear to Trump that they do not care about the policy change he has announced towards Cuba”

“They know people are tired of the same thing. When in April we mobilized more than 1,000 people the political police told us that we would never do something like that again,” he adds.

At the other end of the island, the editor of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), Karina Galvez, was the victim of search of her home, which ended up being sealed. Galvez herself, age 48 and an economist by profession, is under arrest for the alleged crime of tax evasion.

The director of the Center for Coexistence Studies, Dagoberto Valdés Hernández, called the escalation against the civic project he leads – including the suspension of a planned meeting and multiple arrests – acts of “harassment” by State Security.

Also arrested this day was regime opponent Óscar Elías Biscet, founder of the Emilia Project, which seeks the change of government in the island by means of a popular uprising. After a few hours, Dr. Biscet, who has spent long years in jail, was released.

Activists Eduardo Quintana Suarez, Jose Omar Lorenzo Pimienta and Yoan Alvares, who belong to the same organization, were also arrested, as reported by El Nuevo Herald.

Activist Martha Beatriz Roque was arrested when she attempted to attend the scattering of the ashes of the recently deceased opponent Felix Antonio Bonne Carcassés. She explained to 14ymedio that her detention lasted until two on Wednesday afternoon.

Opponent René Gómez Manzano told this newspaper that they “appealed” to his sanity so that he would not attend the ceremony where the ashes would be scattered, although he finally succeeded in doing so.

This repressive wave unfolds a few hours after the replacement of the recently deceased Interior Minister, Carlos Fernández Gondín, by Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla

According to a press release from Democratic Directorate in the city of Holguín, human rights activist Maydolis Leiva Portelles, together with her three children, under arrest since November 27, 2016, were brought to trial.

The entire family, according to the press release, including two minors, was the subject of an act of repudiation that included “violent raiding of the home, beatings, and robbery of personal property.”

This repressive wave has been unfolding within a few hours of the replacement of the recently deceased Interior Minister, Carlos Fernández Gondín, by Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla. Among other prerogatives, the person who controls the portfolio of the Interior Ministry also exercises command over State Security and the National Revolutionary Police.

“With the [previous minister] repression was quite extensive, although it must be said that in Cuba a minister cannot do anything without Raul Castro authorizing it. The policy carried out by Gondín continues with Gandarilla. We will have more repression as the discontent increases,” says José Daniel Ferrer.

Berta Soler Released, But UNPACU Activists Still Detained / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, during an exhibition of the work of Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 19 December 2016 — The leader of the Ladies in White movement was released on Monday after being detained for 24 hours. Berta Soler was arrested the previous day in one of the largest raids against the opposition in recent months. Meanwhile, approximately ten activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) remain imprisoned, according to a report by phone from Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of that organization.

“According to the count we have done, some 117 UNPACU activists were arrested on Sunday and nine houses were raided by the police, who seized five personal computers and dozens of phones, flash drives, printers and printed materials,” Ferrer told 14ymedio. continue reading

UNPACU had called for a march for freedom of all political prisoners and solidarity with Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, and Eduardo Cardet, who were both detained after the death of Fidel Castro.

Six of the houses raided were in Santiago de Cuba, two in Palma Soriano and one in Palmarito de Cauto.

According to Ferrer, the police also seized cash in the houses where they entered, including 370 CUC “intended for the feeding of a pregnant woman and the purchase of things for her unborn child.”

The opponent considers that the government is trying to behead the movement. “They want to capture as many coordinators of UNPACU as possible,” he explains. Almost all detained activists have this organizational role within UNPACU.

This Monday the trial of Lisandra Rivera Rodriguez, accused of the crime of attack, was expected to be held.

UNPACU leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer (EFE)

“They are afraid of the reaction of the organization, so they are developing a rather large operation in Santiago de Cuba. They have placed police barriers around my house,” says Ferrer. The police again threatened to return him to jail, when he and other left together to seek the mediation of the Catholic Church.

“I was told that I was inciting the members of the UNPACU to commit crimes of public disorder, attack, contempt and espionage,” he commented.

UNPACU is the largest opposition organization in the country, centered mainly in the eastern provinces and with a presence in Havana.

The Ladies in White also reported the arrest of 32 activists in Havana and an undetermined number in the provinces.

“We are now updating the report to have the total number of arrests because many Ladies are still being arrested,” said Eralidis Frómeta, who belongs to that movement, which was founded by Laura Pollán in 2003.

Harsh Police Operation Against the Patriotic Union of Cuba / 14ymedio

Note: The video was taken surreptitiously and thus is of poor quality.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 December 2016 – Beginning at 6:00 AM on Sunday morning, Cuban State Security forces attacked nine homes of members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU); six in Santiago de Cuba, two in Palma Soriano, and one in Palmarito de Cauto. More details are expected in the coming hours; currently most of the activists’ telephones have been cut off.

Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the organizations, explained to 14ymedio that the “justification” for the harsh repressive operation was a call made by UNPACU for people to come into the streets in protest, in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The objective of the opposition organization was “to demand the release of the political prisoners and the end to increasingly severe repression against independent civil society groups,” Ferrer said. continue reading

The homes simultaneously attacked were those of Leonardo Pérez Franco, Ovidio Martín Castellanos and Damaris Rodríguez. At the home of Iriades Hernández, who is currently abroad, the police entered and took two laptops. The police also broke into UNPACU’s working headquarters and the home of Jose Daniel Ferrer.

In Palma Soriano the homes of Yenisei Jiménez, wife of political prisoner Geordanis Muñoz, and that of Yeroslandi Calderín, coordinator of the March 18 Cell and a replacement for Víctor Campa who is currently a political prisoner. In Palmarito de Cauto, so far it has only been possible to report an attack on the home of Yasmani Diaz, but it is presumed that there may be other cases.

Assaults, thefts, detentions against member of #UNPACU, Today families won’t eat because their sustenance was stolen.

Among the possessions seized were printed material, discs, audiovisual materials, hard drives, four laptops and several cellphones. In the home of Jose Daniel Ferrer they seized 370 dollars intended to feed a pregnant woman and to buy supplies for her unborn child. As a part of the operation, more than 50 activists in the province of Santiago de Cuba and 10 in Havana had been detained by 1:30 this afternoon.

Some ten of those arrested have been released, among them Jose Daniel Ferrer, who reported the following: “A lieutenant colonel who refused to give me his name showed me a warning notice where it said that our call gave rise to the crimes of public disorder, contempt, attack and espionage. They also warned me that they had been disturbed by my statements about the late Fidel Castro on our website and my modest interpretation or translation of his concept of Revolution.”

Opposition Alliance Calls To Open An Inclusive National Dialog / 14ymedio

Cuban activists founding the MUAD. (14ymedio)
Cuban activists founding the MUAD. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 December 2016 – The Democratic Action Unity Roundtable (MUAD) has made a call to open a national dialog a few days after the death of former Cuban president Fidel Castro. The opposition alliance believes that the country is entering a new stage in its history, according to a declaration signed by its spokesperson, Boris Gonzalez Arenas.

MUAD said that for many Cubans the memory of the political leader is marked by “injustices and inhumane detentions” and the “unjustifiable loss of human lives.” The statement also references the “uprooting suffered” by thousands of islanders “on seeing themselves forced to abandon (…) the land in which they were born.” For these people, Fidel Castro will remain “a totalitarian dictator” the document emphasized.

However, for other Cubans he will always be considered as the ruler “who opened the doors and gave them opportunities for themselves and their families that they did not have before the revolutionary process initiated in 1959.” In the memories of this part of the population Castro will remain “the hero, the father, the ‘at your orders’ Commander in Chief,” the statement says.

The declaration focuses on “a new generation of Cubans” who have “their own interpretation of our history and our reality.” They are individuals with “desires for a respect for diversity of thinking and for freedom,” and who dream of “a truly plural Cuba with respect for human rights and oriented to the benefit of all.”

The challenge for the current government is to put into practice “a set of measures that really impact the economic and social environment” and that allow “wide participation of all Cubans, wherever they are,” MUAD emphasizes.

The renewal of the national legislative political order also is called out as an urgent matter, in the document made public by the opposition coalition.

“The only path we have to achieve all the economic, social and political transformations that we want for Cuba is an inclusive dialog,” says the final paragraph of the statement.

MUAD brings together more than thirty independent civil society organizations. In the middle of this year the alliance suffered a serious reversal with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the largest opposition organization in the country, left its ranks. The same thing occurred with the United Anti-Totalitarian Front (FANTU), led by Guillermo Fariñas.

UNPACU Member Arcelio Molina Rafael Leyva Dies in Fall / 14ymedio

Rafael Molina Arcelio Leyva, known as 'Chely', promoted UNPACU’s presence on-line. (Youtube)
Rafael Molina Arcelio Leyva, known as ‘Chely’, promoted UNPACU’s presence on-line. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 November 2016 – The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) Arcelio Molina Rafael Leyva, known as ‘Chely’, 53, died early on Tuesday after falling from the roof of his home in Havana’s Playa district. This morning an intense police operation surrounded the opponent’s house to investigate the causes of his death, according to UNPACU’s leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer, speaking to 14ymedio.

“Chely deserves a special commemoration page,” the dissident leader told this newspaper, “it is to him that we owe a lot of the audiovisual we have developed.” The activist joined UNPACU in mid-November 2011 and worked in the editing and publication of the videos on the organization’s Youtube channel.

Molina Leyva’s home was the UNPACU’s headquarters for western Cuba, and he was responsible for attention to political prisoners.

By decision of the family, his body will be cremated.

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.”

“It Has Sparked Harsh Repression” / 14ymedio

A few months ago police stormed a children’s party being hosted by UNPACU. (Twitter)
A few months ago police stormed a children’s party being hosted by UNPACU. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 21 July 2106 — The harassment against the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) intensifies. Several activists of the opposition organization have denounced the up to five raids that took place in the early morning hours this Thursday.

Ovidio Martin Castellanos, a member of UNPACU’s Coordination Council in Santiago de Cuba, confirmed to 14ymedio that antiriot troops entered the home of Jose Maria Heredia, on 8th Street in the Mariano de la Torre neighborhood. “They mixed antiriot troops with the political police. At the front was a Major from counterintelligence who calls himself Bruno. Once inside the house, they seized and stole his possessions. continue reading

Carlos Amel Oliva, on hunger strike since last July 13 “to protest the arbitrary confiscations” experienced similar interventions to those of last night, also explained in detail the raid on the house where the Heredia cell is organized and where the father of the youth leader Carlose Oliva lives.

“The operation was led by three State Security officers known as Charles, Bruno and Julio Fonseca. The troops were assault troops, officers fully clothed in bullet-proof vests with long shotguns. They entered my house, tearing down the first door, and taking a video camera and some documents. They also went into the house of some neighbors who have shown a lot of solidarity with me in previous days and took a laptop and hard disk from them,” he said.

The operation was even extended to a kindergarten managed by UNPACU that serves 20 children, children of sympathizers of the movement. There they confiscated a laptop and “frightened the coordinator who cares for the children,” according to the activists, who were relieved that the raid occurred at dawn and that there were no children in the house.

“It has sparked a harsh repression,” says Ovidio Martin, who adds that at Yasmani Magaña’s house, in Palmarito de Cauto, various slogans were painted on the walls, including “Viva Fidel.” According to the opponent, eleven people were detained in this operation, driven approximately 10 miles away and beaten before being released far from town.

“This wave of repression comes because the regime knows the situation that is looming. They are preparing the population for a new Special Period, because people don’t want to live through that again. To us, we are determined to take to the streets and we have attracted their sympathy, and they have intensified harassment because they are afraid that people are joining and becoming activists,” he says.

Carlos Amel has taken advantage of the new wave of attacks against the organization he belongs to, to detail the reasons for his hunger strike. Despite being determined not to eat until they return his belongings, he clarifies the meaning of his words. “It is not [for] a laptop and a computer, they are things that are not worth the life of any human being, but because they arrest us when we go out. Or come into our homes and take whatever they want. This is a constant violation of our rights,” he denounces.

Oliva has shown his appreciation for the support he has received from his organization and other opposition groups such as Somos+ (We Are More) and FANTU (Anti-Totalitarian Forum), and in real solidarity with Guillermo ‘Coco’ Fariñas, on hunger strike as of this Wednesday.

“I am a little weak physically, but firm in my position,” says Oliva. “I have received many calls from abroad, from friends, from media… it is very comforting, for someone on a hunger strike this is the only source of strength.”

More UNPACU Activists on Hunger Strike / 14ymedio

The UNPACU) youth leader, Amel Carlos Oliva. (Center for Coexistence Studies)
The UNPACU) youth leader, Carlos Amel Oliva. (Center for Coexistence Studies)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 July 2016 — The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) reports at least twenty have been arrested in recent hours, after five activists, on Monday, joined the hunger strike started six days ago by the organization’s youth leader, Carlos Amel Oliva, to demand the return of two laptops, a cellphone and a removable hard disc confiscated by the police.

“The repression has been tough. Some 16 activists were arrested in Santiago de Cuba when they went to visit Oliva. The arrests were violent,” one of the opposition group’s coordinators, Ovidio Martin Castellanos, told 14ymedio. In addition to those arrested in the provincial capital, nine other people were intercepted in other areas of eastern Cuba, like Palmarito de Cauto, in the municipality of Mella. continue reading

Katherine Mojena Hernandez, wife of the youth leader and UNPACU member, said that Oliva is physically weakened, “but with the same fortitude with which he started the strike.” She added that the one who calls himself “Official Bruno” personally told Carlos Amel that “you are going to die of hunger” if he waits for his belongings to be returned.

Lazarus Curvelo Mejia, one of the Cubans who has been on hunger strike for four days, said he was willing to support the demand of Carlos Amel until the final consequences.

Among the five activists who have supported Oliva are two women, Zulma Lopez and Joanne Quesada.

The activist Yasmany Magaña from the province of Santiago de Cuba also joined.

UNPACU has denounced the increase in repressive actions against its organization, which it attributes to its growing membership throughout the island.

The group of hunger strikes, in addition to Oliva, includes Lazaro Curbelo Mejias, who has been on strike since the 15th of this month, Maikel Mediaceja Ramos, Zulma López Saldaña, Yoanna Quesada Masabeaux and Yasmani Magañana Díaz who have spent between 24 and 48 hours without eating.

Dozens of UNPACU Activists Detained Attending a Funeral / 14ymedio

Patriotic Union of Cuba activists carry out marches in spite of frequent arrests (UNPACU)
Patriotic Union of Cuba activists carry out marches in spite of frequent arrests (UNPACU)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana – Dozens of activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in Santiago de Cuba were arrested this Tuesday and on Wednesday morning when they tried to go to the funeral of one of their members. The detentions coincided with the burial of Maximilliano Sanchez Pereda, 72 years of age, who died Tuesday morning at the Juan Ambrosio Grillo Hospital.

“They set up several police cordons in order to prevent brothers from arriving to show their sympathy to the family of the deceased,” said opponent Ovidio Martin to 14ymedio via telephone. The visitation was held on Tuesday night at Sanchez’s house, “because that was his will,” he added. continue reading

Martin explained that during the day in the area of Palma Soriano “they arrested about 30 activists” and “more than 20 in the area of Santiago de Cuba.” They were all set free that same night, and the police warned them that they could not attend the funeral.

At dawn on Wednesday, near Palmarito de Cauto, another 35 members of the organization were arrested and “kept in an enclosed truck for hours in sub-human conditions, completely closed and without a bathroom,” said Martin. The same source says that on Wednesday afternoon, “they were all set free” although “they suffered arbitrary and in some cases violent arrests.”

The burial of the deceased took place Wednesday morning, and the activist says that at the moment of the burial there arrived at the cemetery “a truck full of paramilitary forces dressed as civilians pretending that they were community services.”

Martin thinks that the purpose was to prevent a cross from being left at the grave on behalf of the family members and activists on which appeared the deceased’s day of birth, the burial date, and the acronym UNPACU. “Right there a dispute broke out because the paramilitary forces pulled the cross from the grave saying that the abbreviation could not go there.”

Eventually the opponents returned “to put the cross in place.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel