“Wave of Political and Social Repression” in September, according to CCDHRN / 14ymedio

Ladies in White during their march this Sunday (Angela Moya)

Ladies in White during their march this Sunday (Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 October 2015 – This September there were at least 882 arbitrary arrests for political reasons, according to a report by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN). The figure is the highest in the last 15 months, says the independent entity which also warns about an increase in “physical assaults against peaceful opponents by police agents and their collaborators.”

The cases of physical violence reported and verified y the CCDHRN reached 93, “while there were 21 in August.” The Commission, chaired by human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, points out that “September did not lack many acts of harassment and vandalism, either.” These include “house arrests and extrajudicial bans on movement,” says the text of the report.

As “a true wave of political and social repression” there were “353 arrests of peaceful dissidents to prevent them from participating in massive gatherings” with Pope Francis.

The opposition sector was not the only one that suffered police raids, and the CCDHRN reiterates that “an undetermined number of beggars, panhandlers and other homeless people who seek alms on the streets or search for food or anything else in trash dumpsters were interned without judicial order.”

The case of the three from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who “managed to breach the police cordon and approach Pope Francis” in Havana’s Revolution Plaza, is singled out with interest in the report. Zaqueo Baez, Maria Anon and Ismael Bonet “have been jailed for 15 days, under subhuman conditions, in the hands of the secret political police, without access to defense attorneys and without formal charges.” The CCDHRN “is prepared to propose that they be internationally adopted as possible Prisoners of Conscience.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Raul Castro Tells UN that Human Rights Are ‘a Utopia’ / Diario de Cuba

Raul Castro on Monday, September 28 at the UN General Assembly in New York (MINREX)

Raul Castro on Monday, September 28 at the UN General Assembly in New York (MINREX)

The general stands in defense of Latin American populist governments and criticizes democracies with parties “alien and distant from the aspirations of the people.”

diariodecubalogoDiariodeCuba.com, New York, 28 September 2015 – General Raul Castro affirmed this Monday, in his speech before the General Assembly of the UN, that the enjoyment of human rights is “a utopia,” and he criticized the fact that, according to him, “their promotion and protection is distorted.” “They are used as a selective and discriminatory way of imposing political decisions,” he remarked.

The ruler began his speech with reference to the “unacceptable militarization of cyberspace and information technology.” And he lamented that since the emergence of the fundamental charter of human rights, there have been “constant wars and interventions, forcible overthrows by government forces and soft coups.”

In this sense, he defended the freedom of countries to choose their own political, economic, social and cultural system, and he explicitly defended the governments of Nicolas Maduro and Rafael Correa, respectively. Continue reading

Repression of Science

Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard, bio-chemist, researcher for the National Institute for Oncology and Radiobiology, speaks of how he is pressured and prevented from fully carrying out his work because of his friendship with dissidents.

Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard

Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard, bio-chemist, researcher for the National Institute for Oncology and Radiobiology, speaks of how he is pressured and prevented from fully carrying out his work because of his friendship with dissidents.

diariodecubalogoDiariodeCuba.com, Waldo Fernandez Cuenca, Havana, 25 September 2015 — It all started because of a party for his best friend, Ciro Diaz, at the end of 2013. Ciro Diaz, besides being a graduate in Mathematics from the University of Havana, has just one remarkable characteristic: He is a dissident and member of the band Porno for Ricardo. Soon came the threats from State Security to make him a prisoner if he engaged in the activity.

Then came the accusations at work of his being “mercenary” and “annexationist*.” But at no time was this young man, a bio-chemist by profession, intimidated, and he resisted the wishes of his oppressors. Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard has kept his ties of friendship with Ciro and other opposition figures.

Casanella made his case known to the independent project Estado de Sats and was also arrested during the wave of repression unleashed by the performance by activist and artist Tania Bruguera at the end of last year. Since that time his harassment by State Security has continued, principally at his place of employment: The National Institute for Oncology and Radio-biology (INOR) where he serves as a researcher. Continue reading

Education Launches a New Offensive against the “Weekly Packet” / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A Cuban accessing the “Weekly Packet” from his laptop at home (14ymedio)

A Cuban accessing the “Weekly Packet” from his laptop at home (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 25 September 2015 – Under the name To Educate Yourself, the Ministry of Education announced Thursday a collection of documentaries, films and music that it will begin distributing monthly in its learning facilities during the current academic year. In open competition with the illegal weekly packet of audio-visual material, this official rival seeks to establish itself as “an attractive offering of Cuban education” through content of “good taste.”

The compendium is aimed at those among whom the weekly packet is a hit. The majority of Cuban children and teens frequently watch cartoons, video clips, series and films that are distributed on the black market. In order to compete with those materials, the Ministry announces that its offering has “a search engine so that the user is not lost searching among more than a terabyte of data.” Continue reading

3,522 Pardoned in order to Cover Up Cuba’s Sad Reality / 14ymedio, Marlene Azor Hernandez

Map of prisons in Cuba drawn up by the Cuban Human Rights Observatory

Map of prisons in Cuba drawn up by the Cuban Human Rights Observatory

14ymedio, Marlene Azor Hernandez, Mexico City, 18 September 2015 – The pardon of 3,522 ordinary prisoners in Cuba is excellent news, above all for their relatives. At the beginning of July something similar occurred when the Pope visited Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay. In the first two countries, the governments also took the measure with respect to the incarcerated, but it was not of this breadth. In Ecuador 24 inmates benefitted from the measure; in Bolivia there were no pardons, but hundreds of the more than 5,000 prisoners in the most populous jail in the country, Palmasola, would finally be sentenced and be visited by the Pope in his tour of the country.

Ecuador has more than 16 million residents, a penal population of 21,000 prisoners and 24 penitentiaries. In Cuba, for a population of 11 million residents, there are at least 200 jails, and the penal population is estimated at 70,000 prisoners. It seems that the elevated number of pardons is due also to prison overcrowding on the Island. Continue reading

“El Sexto,” on a Hunger Strike and in a Punishment Cell / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera

Maria Victoria , “El Sexto’s” mother (photo by the author)

Maria Victoria , “El Sexto’s” mother (photo by the author)

The artist’s mother denounces her son’s treatment

Cubanet.org, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, 17 September 2015 – Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto,” is being held in a punishment cell, and his hunger strike continues. His mother, Maria Victoria Machado, managed to visit him on Wednesday afternoon in the Valle Grande Prison, located on the outskirts of the Cuban capital.

During these days when the temperatures in Havana get very high, “the jailers give him water only twice a day,” said Maria Victoria to Cubanet. The artist’s mother says that “eight days after the beginning of the hunger strike, Danilo has spent four in the punishment cell. They hold him incommunicado wearing only underwear. He has refused to put on the prisoner clothing.”

“I have no reason to put it on because I have no reason to be a prisoner,” responded Danilo to the officer who informed him that he had to wear the uniform, according to Maria Victoria’s account.

On Tuesday afternoon, two State Security officers visited her. Their objective was to convince Maldonado, using her, to abandon his strike. Maria Victoria’s answer was that “she supports her son and stands firmly by him.”

The agents told her “that he just played into the hands of ‘the enemy’.” But Machado told them that “those whom you label that way, they are the only ones who have helped me in all this time that my son has been a prisoner.”

According to Maria Victoria, her son told her that the hunger strike is “to the end.” He said that he is prepared physically and mentally to sustain it until they give him “an immediate release, because the only other option is death.”

The performance and graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, “El Sexto,” has been a prisoner since last December 25. Police arrested him that day when he was headed to Havana’s Central Park. He was carrying two pigs with the names Fidel and Raul painted on them. His intention was to release them in that central location as part of a performance entitled “Animal Farm.”

His case file was “lost,” according to the prosecution. However, they notified his mother three days ago that the document had been “recovered.”

They accuse Danilo of the supposed crime of “contempt” against public figures of State power.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Twelve Cubans Arrive on Miami Beach by Boat / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami Beach, 15 September 2015 – Twelve Cubans from Caibarien, Villa Clara, arrived in Miami Beach on a rustic boat this Tuesday a little before noon, after spending six days on the high sea, two of them in a storm.

The group of 11 men, one woman – all young – and a dog named Chiquita, arrived in a tourist area near the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a few blocks from Lincoln Road. Tourists and residents of the area congregated on the arrival of the boaters in order to offer them clothes, water, food and money. “We hear on the news that things in Cuba are improving, but this really shook me to see Cubans still escape from the country via the sea. There is something wrong in that,” said a European tourist to a 14ymedio contributor who arrived at the scene.

Tourists and area residents helped the 12 Cuban rafters who arrived today in Miami Beach. (Oscar Alfonso)

Tourists and area residents helped the 12 Cuban rafters who arrived today in Miami Beach. (Oscar Alfonso)

Oscar Alfonso, a lifesaver for the City of Miami Beach, said that on stepping foot on American soil they all “started to hug and kiss the ground.” One of the rafters had spent 56 days in jail in the Bahamas after having been intercepted by that country’s coastguard. A few days ago he returned to Cuba and when he arrived in Caibarien he decided to once again launch himself on the sea with his friends.

Another of the rafters had tried to cross the Straits of Florida 20 times and on this journey he managed to make it. The group spent three days without food and the last two days, adrift, they had given themselves up for lost.

Alfonso, who was working at his post on the beach when the rafters arrived, said that one of them told him it was “the most exciting experience of my entire life,” and added, “there are things that happen to you, it’s incredible the desperation a person has to have to cross the sea.”

They landed singing Willy Chirino’s iconic song Ya viene llegando (Our Day is Coming) and an American gave them an American flag, which they waved.

A resident of Miami Beach decided to take the boat home to preserve the history of Cuban rafters.(14ymedio)

A resident of Miami Beach decided to take the boat home to preserve the history of Cuban rafters.(14ymedio)

The boat – with a nylon sail and mast made from a guayaba tree – on which the Cubans arrived was moved by local police from the shore to the sand near the walkway. Betty Ortega, a Cuban resident of this city, was on the scene when the boaters arrived and told the police to leave the raft. “I told them that they could not take it because this is part of our history,” she said to this newspaper.

The police granted her request and gave her four hours to get the boat off the beach. Ortega will take it home; she still does not know what she will do with it, but she wants to make sure that this part of Cuban history “is told to the world.”

Since October 2015, 31,000 migrants have arrived in the United States, 30% more than the year before, according to figures from the Office of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

Translated by Mary Lou Keel


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

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

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

14ymedio bigger14ymedio.com, Havana, 13 September 2015 – This Sunday, 42 Ladies in White, accompanied by 21 activists from different political groups, walked down Havana’s Fifth Avenue, in the Miramar neighborhood. Finishing their usual route and subsequent meeting in Gandhi Park, next to Santa Rita Parish, the group was arrested by police and other plain-clothes forces, according to reports to 14ymedio by several eyewitnesses.

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

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

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

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

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

A Cuban and His Idea of Success / Cubanet, Iris Lourdes Gomez


Cubanet.org, Iris Lourdes Gomez Garcia, 4 September 2015 – Felipe promised himself that this was going to be his year. He was tired of the buses, after so many years of heat, lines, bad smells, pickpockets and arguments, it was time to do something.

Since he could not aspire to anything else, he began by buying a bicycle. The simplest, the cheapest. Although he arrived everywhere in a sweat, it did not matter, because he had left behind everything described in the foregoing paragraph. Now he only depended on himself, his health and his strength.

After some time, he thought again that it was time to improve; after all – according to him – the success of a man is measured by his means of transportation. In due time, he could aspire to the greatest: a Mercedes Benz or a special Audi, but to get to that point, he would have to go step by step. Continue reading

El Sexto Confirms from Jail His Hunger Strike / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto (The Sixth)

Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto (The Sixth)

14ymedio, Havana, 27 August 2015 – In a telephone call this Thursday, artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, confirmed that he is on a hunger strike. From the Valle Grande prison he also referred to his mother, Maria Victoria Machado, whom a State Security agent had told of his “speedy release.” The graffiti artist has made the announcement cautiously because it is not the first time that “they have tricked him with something like this,” Machado told this daily.

On August 24, El Sexto’s family waited outside the prison for hours for his release. Days before, an official from State Security had reported that date as the one on which he would be liberated. However, the prison authorities denied that “an order or paper allowing him to leave” had arrived. The graffiti artist advised that he would declare himself on hunger strike, although until today his situation could not be confirmed.

Wednesday at the Office of Attention to the Valle Grande Jail Population, Machado was assisted by an official who assured her that no one in the penitentiary center was on hunger strike. However, on exiting, relatives of other prisoners advised her that her son together with other prisoners had begun a fast.

El Sexto recently received the International Vaclav Havel 2015 Prize for creative dissidence, awarded in a ceremony organized under the framework of the Oslo Freedom Forum which he could not attend because he was in prison.

The artist has been imprisoned since last December on a charge of contempt for having tried to carry out a performance with two pigs painted with the names of “Fidel” and “Raul.” Eight months after his arrest he has not been taken before a court.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Graffiti Artist El Sexto Declares a Hunger Strike after Eight Months in Prison / Diario de Cuba

Graffiti artist El Sexto (Danilo Malodonado) (VOICE PROJECT)

Graffiti artist El Sexto (Danilo Maldonado) (VOICE PROJECT)

DiariodeCuba.com, Havana, 25 August 2015 – Graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, declared a hunger strike Tuesday, according to his mother, Maria Victoria Machado, in statements taken by Radio Marti. As of August 25 he will have spent eight months in custody following his arrest and incarceration in the Valle Grande prison for the rebellious performance with the two pigs named Fidel and Raul.

In recent weeks, State Security had told the graffiti artist that he would leave jail on August 24, news that the jail authorities themselves denied Monday under pressure by relatives who appeared at the penitentiary center to seek explanations.

This Tuesday the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), which has awarded a prize to the graffiti artist for his artistic fight in favor of human rights, demanded his liberation.

“El Sexto is a prisoner for satirizing a family dynasty that for 57 years has arrogated to itself absolute power in Cuba, without holding a single democratic election and repressing any critical expression no matter how inoffensive it might be,” said the president of the HRF, Thor Halvorssen.

“Like the inhabitants of the farm [Animal Farm], in Cuba, artists like Danilo Maldonado, Tania Bruguera and Gorki Aguila, are systematically punished for refusing to live under the capricious tenets of a totalitarian regime lacking any sense of humor and repressing even the least manifestation of liberty,” Halvorssen said.

Translator’s note: Danilo is being held in pre-trial detention, he has not been tried.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Gangs in Havana, Crime Gains Ground / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

A member of the gang Blood for Pain shows us the marks used to identify the group (photo by the author)

A member of the gang Blood for Pain shows us the marks used to identify the group (photo by the author)

The landscape could become very similar to those found in Central American countries where the issue is out of control

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana 20 August 2015 – Hector arrived in Havana at the end of 2005. He was only 15 years old when he had to confront a city where its residents’ greatest ease came from knowing how to survive amid so much uncertainty. Today he is 25 years old, and he knows no way of subsisting other than prostitution, pimping and gangs.

Hector was living in Niquero, Granma Province, when bad luck invaded his home: his father died in a domestic accident while he was trying to re-fill a gas cylinder for cooking. A couple of years later, his mother got sick with cancer, and he had to leave high school in order to go to work on the farm of his paternal uncle who, besides paying him very little, abused him sexually and even forced him to prostitute himself.

Although he was only 12, his uncle took him almost every night to the home of a friend who paid 100 pesos [four dollars] in order to rape the little boy who, with time, came to accept that the world was that evil atmosphere that surrounded him and from which he could not escape but could only adapt in order to survive.

“Here you have to survive in whatever way,” says Hector. He has only agreed to speak with me about his life because he was asked by a mutual friend who is none other than the doctor to whom he has always gone in emergency situations. “He is the only guy for whom I give my life. The only one who has helped me without any self-interest since I came to Havana at age 15.” Continue reading

Arrested: 90 dissidents and Ladies in White Who Protested in Obama Masks / Diario de Cuba

Activists and Ladies in White in Gandhi Park. Havana, 9 August 2015. (AFP)

Activists and Ladies in White in Gandhi Park. Havana, 9 August 2015. (AFP)

DiariodeCuba.com, Havana, 9 August 2015 – Some 60 Ladies in White and 30 human rights activists were arrested this Sunday in Havana where they protested while wearing masks with the image of United States President Barack Obama and carrying photos of political prisoners.

The Obama masks signaled the participating activists’ rejection of the Washington-Havana rapprochement, reported the AFP agency.

The report said that uniformed and plainclothes officers, accompanied by squads of official governmental protesters who were shouting, “down with the worms,” surrounded the dissidents and arrested them at about 14:00 hours (local time) when they were preparing to withdraw to their homes after the traditional Sunday march by the Ladies in White. Continue reading

“If You March this Sunday, You Won’t Leave the Country Again” / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera

Gorki during a prior arrest in August 2008

Gorki during a prior arrest in August 2008

Ultimatum from the political police to musician Goki Aguila, participant in the peaceful marches of the Ladies in White.

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, 6 August 2015 – Tuesday, August 4, Gorki Aguila, leader of the punk band Porno for Ricardo, was visited at his home by an official from the PNR Sector (Revolutionary National Police). She tried, without success, to get Aguila to accept a badly drafted and irregular summons.

After that visit, on Wednesday at about midday, Gorki heard a knock on his apartment door. On opening, he found two police officers who were bringing orders to arrest him:

“I barely had time to make a couple of calls,” says the musician and host of the offline radio program Gear Shift. “Then, while I was being taken to the patrol car, I asked the agents the reason for the arrest. They did not know how to answer me.” Continue reading

Cancer from High Levels of Metals in Reservoirs? (II) / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

In spite of the contamination of Cuban bays, health authorities do not prevent fishing and bathing (photo by the author)

In spite of the contamination of Cuban bays, health authorities do not prevent fishing and bathing (photo by the author)

Cubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 28 July 2015 – Between the years 2004 and 2007, 65 children from the Los Sitios neighborhood in Central Havana, 7 to 10 years of age, underwent testing in order to determine their degree of lead poisoning. The research, conducted by a team of researchers from the Cuban National Institute of Health, Epidemiology and Microbiology (INHEM), found that 46.2% of the children exceeded the acceptable levels for adults according to the World Health Organization (10.0 mg/dl) and that 67.7% already were demonstrating learning difficulties associated with poisoning from this heavy metal.

According to the scientists, who recommended extending the investigation to other areas of the capital, the group of those affected presented with “diminished reading abilities, more limited vocabulary, poor reasoning, very slow reactions and poor psychomotor coordination.” Also, concern about the long term consequences was raised due to lead exposure being associated not only with reduction in academic performance but with changes in hearing, behavior, low self esteem, suicide attempts, depressive syndromes, aggression, and even mental retardation or death. Continue reading