A Proposal To Join Forces Against the Dictatorships of Cuba and Its Allies

Luis Zúñiga, former Cuban political prisoner, during the conference on torture and dictatorships in Latin America held in Madrid. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, Rosa Pascual, 18 March 2024 — More than 4,000 miles away from Santiago de Cuba, in Madrid, there was talk this Monday night of the protests that took place in the eastern capital and other cities of the Island. “Let’s keep present in our thoughts the people who are in the streets right now,” said Javier Larrondo, founder of Prisoners Defenders, at the beginning of the part dedicated to Cuba in Faces of Torture, autocracies in Latin America.

Leopoldo López, general secretary of the World Liberty Congress, which organized the event with the support of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), had inaugurated a conference for victims of the tyrannies of Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba, asking for the unity of the citizens of all countries living under an autocratic regime. “Human rights have no borders; human rights cannot be defended on islands, without understanding that every human being has the same rights, regardless of where he lives,” said the Venezuelan opponent, exiled in Spain since October 2020.

Both he and former Bolivian senator Zvonko Matkovic, who spent ten years in pretrial detention without trial, insisted on the union of the activists of the four countries in response to the authoritarian regimes, all members of the Puebla Group. “The rulers help each other, and we also have to help each other.”

“They have the whole society on its knees. They need to establish terror in society. That’s why they torture those who have the audacity and courage to face them”

Along with Larrondo, the voice of Cubans was represented by Luis Zúñiga, a former political prisoner described by the regime as an “anti-Cuban terrorist,” who began by exposing how Castroism has used the Armed Forces from the beginning to torture and repress the Cuban people. “They have the whole society on its knees. They need to establish terror in society. That’s why they torture those who have the audacity and courage to face them,” he said.

Zúñiga, who silenced the already sensitized audience by telling how he and other prisoners covered their ears with threads pulled out of their underwear so as not to hear the screams of the tortured, detailed the process of accelerated establishment on the Island of a terror based on that of the Stalinist regime. To illustrate, he gave a figure.

Before 1959, there was a prison for each province in Cuba, which then numbered 6, and now number 15. After, 240. “On an island of 11 million inhabitants. So that you understand the level of repression that has been experienced in Cuba for 65 years.” In the 1960s, he said, there were 120,000 political prisoners, “recognized by Fidel Castro and commented on at the United Nations.” He showed a photograph of a walled cell, like the one in which he himself spent nine of the 19 years he was in prison. “There is no window in the cell, and that’s where you live. You live perpetually in that twilight,” he added.

Zúñiga also spoke of the Cuban presence in Angola and showed photographs from the ’11J’ demonstrations of the wounded and beaten. By criticizing the regime, Cubans can lose their jobs and, even worse, their freedom. In addition, he stressed, Cuba is the model to follow for the rest of the autocratic countries in the region. “They have two strategies: one for friendly countries, which are Nicaragua, Venezuela, Brazil and Honduras; and another for other countries, such as Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay.” In the former, he specified, intelligence and the Armed Forces are trained, while in the second they act “through non-governmental organizations, civil society and far-left organizations.”

Venezuelan Leopoldo López, general secretary of the World Liberty Congress, inaugurated the event in Madrid. (14ymedio)

Javier Larrondo asked everyone to have a symbolic and specific thought for the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, José Daniel Ferrer, among the many individual cases he cited. The alarm has increased over this prisoner in the last 24 hours, after his relatives – later supported by American and European political leaders – asked for proof of life. They haven’t heard from him since November 2023. “There is a victim who is being tortured, and they are killing him slowly, systematically. And his name is José Daniel Ferrer. They want to release him in a wheelchair, that’s a reality,” Larrondo shouted.

In his speech there was no lack of reproach toward the leaders of the European Union, for sitting down and shaking hands with the leaders of the regimes who torture those who are willing to stand up to them.

The figures provided at the beginning of the event by Javier El-Hage, legal director of HRF, did not leave anyone indifferent. “In the world, there are a total of 97 authoritarian or hybrid states; that is, with a democratic facade but authoritarian methods.” Among those he considers “hybrids” are India and Serbia, he said, warning of the considerable ground that authoritarian governments are gaining in the face of democracies.

“There is a victim who is being tortured, and they are killing him slowly, systematically. And his name is José Daniel Ferrer”

His introduction was followed by Jhanisse Vaca Daza, of the Jucumari Foundation, and Alejandra Serrate, both Bolivians, who demanded that the situation of their country be taken into account, overshadowed by the apparently most brutal cases of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Vaca Daza told the story of the indigenous opponent, César Bazán, a cocoa grower, who is in a private prison for medical assistance after suffering three embolisms that paralyzed him after being tortured. According to her report, the jailers pressured him to sign – with a finger, since he lacks mobility – a paper admitting his guilt. “They told him that he could be free and have the necessary care, that he is there because it is his decision to be suffering that type of torture, that he does not know because he is very stubborn and does not want to accept it,” she said.

Both agreed that the Government of Luis Arce is even “stronger in terms of repression, political persecution, torture and authoritarianism, even armed attacks on the press, because it wants to win the vote of the people who support Evo Morales.”

Another of the most emotional moments occurred during the testimony of the Nicaraguan student leader Lesther Alemán, who received a standing ovation from the auditorium by reclaiming his nationality, lost “only on paper.” “I am and will continue to be Nicaraguan, however painful that is.” Alemán, 26, spoke together with the activist Alexa Zamora, also stripped of her passport, and told of the case of the children who are collateral victims of the violence of these dictatorships, exemplified in the case of the son of one of the stateless opponents who – like him – was forcibly expatriated on a flight to the United States.

Alemán did not want to reveal the name of the affected person, but he did explain that the child could not leave the country because his father, lacking a passport, “did not exist.” The solution that was offered to the family in Migration – “sent from above” – was to deprive the minor of his paternal surname and formally take away parental authority. “The minor has had to lose his father’s last name to be able to hug him,” he said, showing the way family members are pressured.

“Not only is it worrying that there are more and more dictatorships, but that their economic and commercial power is increasing”

Venezuela was very present at the event, especially thanks to the video with virtual reality prepared by Víctor Navarro, from Voices of Memory, to place attendees of the exhibition – which will be open until Wednesday in the Serrería Belga cultural space in Madrid – inside the Helicoide prison itself, headquarters of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service in which all kinds of tortures have been reported.

Both he and Molly de la Sotta put the focus on the many detainees of the Maduro regime that “liberates political prisoners on one hand and imprisons as many on the other.” Both were critical of the processes of dialogue that have been carried out with the Government of Nicolás Maduro and, even more, of the many dealings that the different countries have with Venezuela. “Many democratic countries continued to do business with Venezuela. Not only is it worrying that there are more and more dictatorships, but that their economic and commercial power is increasing. According to a report, 48% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product is produced by autocracies,” said Navarro. “An economy that is maintained thanks to the blood of the tortured.”

De la Sotta shook up the public detailing some of the methods of torture of Chavismo that have been documented, including asphyxiation by immersion, hanging with ropes, cuts in the soles of the feet, rapes with a rifle, simulation of executions, deprivation of food and sleep for more than 48 hours, obligation to eat their own excrement and vomiting, and all kinds of ideas, imaginable or not.

“This is a key year for the permanence of this autocracy. A key year for a transition process. Yes, we need the European Union. We need you to say that there is torture in Venezuela. We need you to demand the release of political prisoners. In Venezuela there is torture; in Venezuela there is murder. But there are also Venezuelans who are not going to shut up and who are going to continue fighting,” Navarro concluded.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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