Humanitarian proposal from the Human Rights Commission / 14ymedio

José Daniel Ferrer, Elizardo Sanchez and Hector Maseda at the news conference. (14ymedio)
José Daniel Ferrer, Elizardo Sanchez and Hector Maseda at the news conference. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, 23 January 2015 — The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) convened a press conference at its headquarters to unveil an initiative to release, on humanitarian grounds, a total of 24 prisoners who have spent more than 12 years in Cuban prisons.

Presenting were Elizardo Sanchez, Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and Hector Maseda, president of the Liberal Party of Cuba, who also promoted the Four Points of Consensus of the Cuban Civil Society, ratified and updated last December 22 in a meeting of the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum.

One of the aspects most discussed today among the internal dissidence on the Island, is the issue of who should be on the list of possible prisoners to be released. Debated is whether there should appear, among those who should receive this benefit, those accused of acts of terrorism, hijacking of planes, or other armed actions.

The group proposed by the CCDHRN includes people incarcerated for similar reasons, but it is argued that they are one the list for humanitarian reasons, which does not justify the acts committed.

US Congressional delegation meets with Cuban activists and independent journalists /14ymedio

Patrick Leahy, Debbie Stabenow, Chris Van Hollen and Sheldon Whitehouse entering their hotel in Havana. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)
Patrick Leahy, Debbie Stabenow, Chris Van Hollen and Sheldon Whitehouse entering their hotel in Havana. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio, Havana, 19 January 2015 — On Sunday afternoon a dozen activists and representatives of Cuban civil society met with the American congressional delegation visiting Cuba. Chaired by Senator Patrick Leahy, the group was able hear diverse opinions in response to the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between the two countries.

A member of the delegation confirmed that the Cuban authorities were aware of the meeting with the activists and had made known to the American side their displeasure with the meeting.

In a relaxed atmosphere, several of those present expressed the conviction that “this opens a new era” and demanded greater transparency in negotiations, according to what they themselves reported after the meeting. Elizardo Sanchez, president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, gave lawmakers a list with the names of 24 prisoners who, on humanitarian grounds, should be included in an upcoming release process. continue reading

The leader of the movement Somos + (There are more of us), Eliecer Avila, said on leaving that he told the visitors that “Throughout this time there has been talk about the agenda of the US government or the agenda of the Cuban government, but the most important thing to consider is the agenda of the Cuban people.” According to the activist, “Before December 17 people said ‘no one can fix this,’ now the expression most heard in the street is ‘let’s see what happens’ and the great challenge for the civic forces is to get people asking, ‘What can we do to change things?’”

Manuel Cuesta Morua said that he had shared with Leahy and the rest of the group that, “This is a historical event and it is very difficult to have a perspective on something so close.” Nevertheless, he reaffirmed that “A new era is opening for Cuba.”

Several participants in the meeting noted the expectations that the December 17 announcement had awakened in the Cuban people. José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, expressed the appreciation of the activists of his movement who had been released from prison as a result of the negotiations between the two governments.

Berta Soler, for her part, reaffirmed the position of the Ladies in White against the negotiations and questioned whether the Cuban people would benefit directly from relations between the two countries. The activist cited the continuation of the repression and police harassment against the women who belong to this human rights movement. Her position was echoed by Antonio Rodiles, director of the opposition group Estado de Sats (State of Sats).

Yoani Sánchez, director of 14ymedio, emphasized that “The Cuban government is not willing to negotiate with its own people and yet has chosen to negotiate with the American government.” Hence, “Given the absence of the people’s voice at the negotiating table, it’s important to pressure the authorities to allow freedom of expression and of the press, as this will be the way we disseminate our demands and programs.”

Others present at the meeting confirmed the positive nature of the new scenario and the need for the Cuban civic movement to exploit the advantages it offers, and to be the people who to determine their own future.

Cuba is the Black Sheep of Human Rights / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar & Elizardo Sanchez

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 10 December 2014* — Coinciding with the observance of International Human Rights Day today, we spoke with Elizardo Sánchez, spokesman for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) in Havana to review the current situation on the Island.

Q:  Today the whole world commemorates Human Rights Day. What is the situation in our country at the close of 2014? Do we have reasons for hope or for worry?

A:  The general scene of civil, political, labor and other fundamental rights continues to worsen. Although the rate of detentions for political reasons has diminished in recent months, this is because the government has understood that this type of arrest portrays a very negative image. It did the same before when it decided to reduce the number of political prisoners, which is currently at around 110 persons.

Nonetheless, the government has not reformed any laws, and it has not given up its repressive and threatening mission against all of society. Therefore, it cannot be said that the situation has improved. Unless a miracle occurs, it will continue to worsen.

Q: What are the repressive methods which are most used at this moment?

A:  There has been a metamorphosis insofar as repression for political reasons is concerned. It no longer consists of lengthy prison sentences, or even of extended detentions. Instead, what occurs frequently are short-term arrests with the added element of other forms of intimidation, such as vandalism, including rocks being thrown at houses or residences being ransacked. There are also physical aggressions, which have increased throughout the year, be they overt or covert. continue reading

The repressive apparatus can be quite creative in its activities, such as taking the clothes off activists on some remote highway–or leaving them without shoes, which results in these people having to walk many miles barefoot to get home. This is in addition to the psychological effect inflicted on any individual when part of their clothing is taken from them.

Q: The Cuban government has called for this day to be observed throughout the country. How do you assess this new attitude?

A: We have been following the official media and we heard their calls for this day to be observed in parks and public places. Doing so, they neutralize any initiative undertaken by the independent civil society. An example is the announcement by the Ladies in White to meet today at the centrally-located corner of L and 23rd Streets. Very likely, this event will be quashed. The government will try to not have so much recourse to detentions, in keeping with the repressive trend this past year, 2014.

Q: Do you believe that Cuba will one day come to be a referee of human rights, even a regional watchdog to ensure their implementation?

A: This is the dream of many of ours. But, unfortunately, Cuba is today the black sheep of human rights within the inter-American sphere and the world. This is so because Cuba encourages abuses and blocks any attempt to bring forth certain complaints to the United Nations, as in the case of its complicity with the regime of North Korea.

Q:  Would you say that there is an International Committee of Human Rights Violators?

A: The great violators of human rights tend to act in conjunction with the rest, shielding themselves behind each other and lending mutual support. That is, not only is there a negative situation maintained within the country, but the Cuban regime provides negative leadership at the international level, much more than any other government does. This is quite contrary to the leadership role that the Republic of Cuba took in the drafting of the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Our diplomats at that time were second only to the French and the North Americans in terms of leading that task.

We therefore hope that Cuba will again become a bastion in the defense of human rights, and that the whole infrastructure that the regime has in place today for its own ends will help to create congresses that promote respect for fundamental rights at the continental level. May those halls and convention centers provide space for the formation, popularization, protection and training of human rights defenders throughout the world.

*Translator’s note: This interview took place a week before Barack Obama’s announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

 Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

10 December 2014

“We hope the government will announce the names of the prisoners benefiting in the coming hours” / 14ymedio, Elizardo Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar

Elizardo Sanchez
Elizardo Sanchez

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 December 2014 – The spokesperson for the Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, Elizardo Sánchez, shares with the readers of 14ymedio his reflections on the rapprochement between Havana and Washington announced this Wednesday, after more than five decades of rupture.

Escobar: Does the National Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation have the names of the 53 prisoners that the Government of the United States expressed an interest in releasing this Wednesday?

Sánchez: We have collected over a hundred documented names of political prisoners, but we have absolutely no idea of who will benefit under this agreement with the list of 53 “plus one.” I can add that in what was, until now, the United States Interest Section, they tell us that they don’t know the details either.

Q. Does “plus one” refer to the person who has been mentioned as a spy for US government?

A. Indeed. It has been said that it is a person “of Cuban origin” and that qualification introduces doubt as to his identity, because it suggests that it is a Cuban-American. We must wait for the Government of Cuba to announce it; we hope they will do so in the coming hours. continue reading

Q. What news do you think is more relevant, the release of the three intelligence officers or the reestablishment of diplomatic relations?

A. What we are seeing as of this Wednesday is a campaign focused on “the great victory obtained by the Cuban government” with the release of these three intelligence officers, but, in my opinion, what is transcendent is the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. That is a truly historic event and from it can come consequences of enormous importance.

Q. What is your impression of the reasons for the silence of Fidel Castro?

A. I do not know what to say. It may be due to health reasons. You cannot forget that he will be 89 in nine months, or perhaps he preferred to keep quiet, or to wait to see the reaction of the people. I don’t know. He knows.