Threats and Arrests if Dissidents Continue in Cuba / 14ymedio

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, Havana, 15 December 2016 –The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, was arrested Thursday in the morning when she was about to leave the headquarters of the organization in the neighborhood of Lawton, Havana, in order to connect to the Internet.

Angel Moya, a former prisoner of the Cause of 75 from the 2003 Black Spring and Soler’s husband, told this newspaper that neighborhood witnesses confirmed to him that the arrest had been made with excessive use of force. “She was arrested violently, neighbors testify that they even beat her,” says the dissident who was not at home at the time of arrest. continue reading

Moya speculates that Soler was taken to the detention center in Alamar, but was unable to confirm the information.

The former prisoner of the Black Spring told 14ymedio that the Ladies in White movement has not programmed any activities for today. “Right now, the only thing Berta did was to launch a call for Tuesday, 19 December, at two in the afternoon in Central Park, for the traditional Literary Tea, if State Security continues to operate around the group’s headquarters in Lawton, and prevents the activists from accessing it.

Around two in the afternoon the political police arrested another Lady in White, Marlen Gonazalez, when she went out with her husband to buy food at the agricultural market. “A patrol car came and asked for her ID card and they took her prisoner,” said her neighbors in the San Miguel de Padron area.

While all this was going on, at Jose Marti Airport the activist Jose Diaz Silva, a Cuban delegate to the Democracy Movement, he was approached by police before taking a flight to the United States. According to a report from the dissident, the officials warned him that on his return from Miami he would encounter very serious reprisals and that from now on the opposition’s “days are numbered.”

The latest report of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) said that during November there were at least 359 arbitrary arrests of peaceful opponents on the island, over a hundred cases fewer than in October. However, the independent organization warns of a possible increase in repression following the death of former President Fidel Castro.

Opponents of the Cuban Regime React to the Election of Trump / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Clockwise from top left: Eliecer Avila, Antonio Rodiles, Martha Beatriz Roque, Laritza Diversent, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Berta Soler
Clockwise from top left: Eliecer Avila, Antonio Rodiles, Martha Beatriz Roque, Laritza Diversent, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Berta Soler

cubanet square logoCubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 9 November 2016 – The elections in the United States, with the victory of the Republican Donald Trump and the defeat of the Democrat Hillary Clinton, contrary to the predictions of most polls, has captured the attention of the world’s public opinion in recent hours due to the decisive nature of United States policy in the international arena.

The normalization of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States and the diverse opinions generated by the lengthy diplomatic process and packages of measures aimed at easing the embargo, implemented by current US president Barack Obama, have given rise to a broad spectrum of opinions within Cuban civil society, such that some of the main opposition leaders on the island have expressed their views to CubaNet to the election results announced at dawn on Wednesday.

Antonio Rodiles, coordinator of Estado de Sats (State of Sats) and organizer of the We All March campaign, says: “We expect consistency of those who, within Cuba, maintained a policy against Trump and were confident in Hillary’s victory. (…) Maybe difficult times will come for the process of normalization of relations with Cuba and the continuity of Obama’s program. We expect another direction in the dialogue and a president who places the issue of respect for human rights and freedom of expression as a priority, a determinant, at any negotiating table.” continue reading

Jose Daniel Ferrer, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, UNPACU, argues that the electoral decision does not mean negative effects on the relations between the two countries: “I do not think the difference is notable. The American people have chosen. The new president will do what suits the citizens of the United States and, as he should, prioritize the interests of his nation (…). The candidate the people believed to be better has won (…). (Regarding Cuba) common sense in the process of normalization of relations will prevail and we expect a strong hand with the dictatorship because (Cuba) is a regime contrary to the interests US, it is a regime that no American candidate would never agree to in the style of Venezuela or China. (…) We expect better relations with the new government.”

The regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque said: “It seems that the American people have passed the bill to the Democratic Party. Many people are concerned about the ways in which Trump has expressed himself during his campaign, but I think that concern should be minimized because surely the Republican Party will take control of the situation. (…) With regards to his impact on the Cuba issue I think there are measures taken by Obama that are irreversible. Especially because America is a democracy, not like Cuba, which is governed by a totalitarian. It will not be easy to give a twist to relations with the island. However, I think this gentleman will be educated by his advisers enough to not make the mistakes of the previous president.”

Eliecer Avila, activist with the movement Somos+ (We Are More), confessed to not having had a previous position in favor or against any candidate, although he said about his expectations: “I didn’t support either of them one hundred percent. In Hillary Clinton I saw very positive support for Obama’s policy (toward Cuba). (…) Donald Trump has shown some strong positions but I do not think that will change the policy of his predecessor but, apparently, will negotiate from other positions.”

The lawyer Laritza Diversent , founder of Cubalex, believes that the elections were a reflection of the opinion of the American people and believes that Cuba will occupy an important place in the policy of President-elect: “The process of normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba is irreversible. (…) There is a responsibility to the legacy of Obama. The United States, with its current policy, is leading positive changes. Many challenges are imposed on the new president. We should also consider the views of the US Congress and other powers in that nation.”

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, believes it is too early to make predictions about the directions Trump will take regarding policies on Cuba: “We have to wait. I have never preferred one or the other because there is a reality: it is not about the Cuban President but about the President of the United States. Someday I want Cuba to be able to elect a president in a way similar way to that in the United States. (…) We don’t know about Trump, we have to wait. There may be changes but I do not know, I’d rather wait. ”

The election of the 45th President of the United States has not only launched numerous questions in the world’s most important economic sectors. For Cuba, undergoing a process of rapprochement with the United States that could help find a solution to economic stagnation, for the government, or a way for democratization, for civil society, the policies toward the island that will be decisive in the immediate future will be designed by Trump.

Ivan Hernandez And Felix Navarro Prevented From Leaving Cuba “A Second Time” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Ivan Hernandez Carrillo. (Twitter / @ivanlibre)
Ivan Hernandez Carrillo. (Twitter / @ivanlibre)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 August 2016 – Cuba’s immigration authorities prevented activists Ivan Hernandez and Felix Navarro from traveling outside Cuba this Thursday. The former prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring were invited to participate in the 2nd Cuban National Conference that be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, from 12 to 14 August, but were unable to board their flight at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, where they ran into Reinaldo Escobar, 14ymedio’s editor

The answer that each of the dissidents received on presenting their documents to the Immigration and Nationality official was: “You cannot leave a second time.” continue reading

Both Hernandez and Navarro had received, in March of this year, special permission to go abroad “one-time” after being placed on parole, a condition the authorities continue to maintain since release from prison in 2011. All those released from the Black Spring “Group of 75” who continue to reside in Cuba benefited from a similar authorization.

The opponent Librado Linares, also a former prisoner of the Black Spring and general secretary of the Cuban Reflection Movement (MCR), did manage to board his flight on Thursday to participate in the meeting of Puerto Rico, since it was the first time he made use permit leave the Island.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) recently sent a letter to Raul Castro expressing “deep concern” about the “violent treatment” received by the trade unionist Ivan Hernandez on his return to Cuba after his first trip abroad.  He traveled on the same flight as the opponent Vladimir Roca and attorney Wilfredo Vallin, of the Law Association of Cuba.

Hernandez was arrested on July 31 and reported that he received a “savage beating” when he refused to be subjected to a search at the time of arrival. During his trip abroad he met with organizations and activists from Europe and the United States.

Both Hernandez and Navarro cataloged the “injustices” and said they will continue trying to assert their right to travel freely.

The Cuban National Conference is a continuation of one held last year, which involved 23 organizations in Cuba and 32 from exile. It has been convened by the Coordinating Liaison Committee composed of Ana Carbonell, Rosa María Payá, Sylvia Iriondo, Guillermo Farinas, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leyva, Rene Gomez Manzano, Mario Félix Lleonart and
 Saylí Navarro

Among the participants in the conference traveling from Cuba are also Eliecer Avila, leader of Somos+ (We Are More) and Boris Gonzalez, a member of the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD). The great absence the meeting will be Guillermo Fariñas, who remains on hunger strike in Santa Clara.

In the early hours of Thursday, Lady in White Leticia Ramos Herrería was arrested while traveling from Matanzas to Havana to take the flight that would also have taken her to the conference in Puerto Rico, according to the leader of the Ladies in White movement, Berta Soler, speaking to this newspaper. The activist was returned to her home where she is under police surveillance.

Event organizers want to use this 2nd Conference to create a “structure of unity of action in diversity,” whose purpose is to “operate inside and outside Cuba, coordinating the efforts of both shores.” In addition, they discussed “the general principles of the new Cuba” desired, an issue that was left pending at the previous meeting.

“I Have Not Been Able to Overcome Laura’s Death”/ Cubanet, Hector Maseda

Title on video: “The most difficult moment was when they tried to accuse me of spying…”

cubanet square, Julio Cesar Alvarez and Augusto Cesar San Martin, 29 July 2016, Havana – Hector Maseda dreamed of designing big ships and hanging his naval engineering degree where everyone could see it, but “since they only built boats here,” he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.

His excellent grades assured him a post in the National Center for Scientific Research (CNIC) until 1980 when the Mariel Boatlift changed his life, as it did for tens of thousands of Cubans who decided to emigrate, but from a different angle.

Hector did not emigrate but lost his job at the CNIC for refusing to repudiate his colleagues who chose to leave the Island. He stopped enjoying the “political trustworthiness” indispensable for working at the center, the “father of science in Cuba.” continue reading

From a scientist with three post-graduate studies and author of several scientific articles, he became a handicrafts vendor for more than a year in order to be able to survive. After going through several different jobs he began to work in the medical devices department in the oldest functioning hospital in Cuba, the Commander Manuel Fajardo Teaching Surgical Hospital.

It was there, on Christmas of 1991, that he began the courtship of Laura Pollan, a teacher of Spanish and literature who would later become a symbol of the peaceful struggle for human rights in Cuba.

The spring of 2003 was a “Black Spring” for Hector and 74 of his colleagues (known as the Group of 75). Sentenced to 20 years in a summary trial for a supposed crime against the independence and territorial integrity of the State, he spent more than seven years in prison.

From that Black Spring emerged the Ladies in White, a group of wives and family members of the 75 dissidents. Laura Pollan, because of the arrest of Hector Maseda, quit her job as a professor in the Ministry of Education and became the founder and leader of the Ladies in White.

“From that moment, she gave up all her pleasures, all her intellectual and social inclinations, etc., and became a leading defender of human rights,” says Maseda.

But Laura would not survive long after Hector’s liberation. A strange virus ended her life in 2011, although Hector Maseda is convinced that the Cuban political police assassinated her.

President of the National Commission of Masonic Teaching and past-President of the Cuban Academy of High Masonic Studies, Hector has traveled the whole road of Cuban Freemasonry.

From apprentice to Grade 33 of the Supreme Council for the Republic of Cuba, he is one of the 25 Sovereign Grand Inspectors of the order which is composed of about 29 thousand Masons spread through more than 300 lodges around the Island.

He has worked as an independent journalist for outlets like CubaNet, Miscelaneas de Cuba and others. His book Buried Alive recounts the conditions of the Cuban political prison system and the abuses of jailers against political and common prisoners.

But he, who at age 15 was arrested and beaten by the Batista police after being mistaken for a member of the July 26 terrorist group and at age 60 psychologically tortured by Fidel Castro’s political police by being subjected to sleep deprivation in interrogations, still has not overcome the death of his wife Laura Pollan.

“I have not been able to overcome that trauma,” says Maseda.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

“I Am Prepared To Go to Prison Today,” says Berta Soler / 14ymedio

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, during the art exhibit by El Sexto in Miami, Florida. (14ymedio)
Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, during the art exhibit by El Sexto in Miami, Florida. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 May 2016 – From early hours Sunday a major police operation surrounded the headquarters of the Ladies in White in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton, according to denunciations by several activists from that organization. At least “13 women and four opponents were brutally intercepted outside the house” and forced into police cars in the last 13 hours, dissident Luisa Ramona Toscano Kendelan said by telephone to 14ymedio. continue reading

The group that surrounded the property included, as has become customary, a conga line with music through powerful speakers and signs that use the opposition campaign slogan “We All March” together with the phrases “with Fidel,” “with the Revolution” and “with socialism.”

At several points in the city similar operations prevented the women who form part of the human rights organization from reaching Santa Rita Church. Several on-scene witnesses report that at least two Ladies in White had managed to reach the vicinity of the parish on the western periphery of Havana.

Minutes before her arrest and in statements to this daily, Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, declared that she was ready to confront the risks of leaving her organization’s headquarters in order to exercise the right of “peaceful demonstration.” She explained that she was prepared to go “to prison to await the trial” with which they threatened her last week for a charge of resisting the authorities.

“I am prepared, I have my blood pressure monitor, my pills, shots, personal hygiene articles, flip flops … I carry it all. I am again going to commit the crime they accuse me of, so I expect to end up in the Manto Negro women’s prison.”

In the morning hours in the Matanzas province, Lady in White Leticia Ramos Herreria, who urged agents to take her directly to prison to await trial, was detained. Nevertheless, the State Security officers responded to her that “it was still not time.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Lady in White Berta Soler Threatened With Prison / 14ymedio

Berta Soler at the Havana airport. (File / 14ymedio)
Berta Soler at the Havana airport. (File / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 May 2016 — Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, faces a prison sentence of three months to five years for the alleged crime of resistance. The activist was arrested last Sunday when she attempted to go to the Cathedral of Havana for the inauguration of the new archbishop of the capital. After being charged by the authorities, she is required to available to them at all times and cannot leave Cuba before her trial. “I didn’t become an opponent [of the regime] in order to travel and I am prepared to go to prison if that is the decision. I won’t even get a lawyer,” Soler told 14ymedio.

The group of 31 activists, among them 22 Ladies in White, was intercepted on leaving the Ladies in White’s headquarters in the Lawton neighborhood. The repudiation rally against them before the Sunday Mass was organized for 9 in the morning and involved many people who were not even from the neighborhood. “Although we already knew we wouldn’t be able to get there,” Berta Soler said, “we decided to leave [for the church] because our house is not a jail cell.” As commonly occurs, tempers flared and finally the police arrived to arrest them.

“When they stopped us we sat down, which is a common practice in peace movements around the world, except in Cuba,” Soler emphasized.

Berta Soler was driven to the Alamar neighborhood where, she said, there was “a classroom reserved by the PNR (People’s Revolutionary Police).” At about six or seven in the evening they told her that this time there would be formal charges. “At first they said that I had scratched a policewoman, but eventually they dismissed the charge of attack,” she said.

That night an official who said she was the investigator/prosecutor on her case told her that she was accused of resistance. “I didn’t respond in any way and went to sleep. At a quarter to ten at night they came to find me to sign the accusation but I didn’t sign any document. We (and they as well) have videos that show I never lifted a hand to anyone or attack anyone, not even verbally.”

Berta Soler says she has no problem complying with the requirement that she not leave the country. “At the moment I have no plans for any trip. The closest is an idea to go to Geneva, but that still has not materialized. If before [the trial], or at any time I need to leave the country for some event, they will have to stop me from traveling at the airport itself,” she said.

The date of her trial has not been set.

Rights Commission Counts 1,380 Political Arrests in Cuba in April / 14ymedio

A police operation outside the home of a regime opponent. (Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca)
A police operation outside the home of a regime opponent. (Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 May 2016 – A report released on Tuesday by the Cuban National Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) announced that during the April there were “at least 1,380 arbitrary arrests for political reasons” in Cuba. A situation that “confirms the ultra repressive policy adopted at the highest level of the government of the island,” says the document.

The independent entity questioned the attitude of the authorities which is “aimed at trying to silence dissenting voices and any form of peaceful public demonstrations of discontent.” In the introduction to the report an estimate for politically motivated arrests during the first four months of the year is provided: “At least 5.351.” continue reading

The CCDHRN comments on “the inability to quality the acts of repression and the climate of intimidation against all society, a victim, also, of massive campaigns of disinformation and diversionary propaganda.” A situation that keeps the Cuban people “in a state of complete defenselessness and hopelessness” it says.

On 25 April, the CCDHRN published its most recent partial list of prisoners currently incarcerated for political reasons, which included the names of 82 Cubans imprisoned for so-called “crimes against the state.” However, in the report released Tuesday, it is reported that a few days later that figure “had increased with four other women,” members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) found in “provisional detention.”

The four activists added to the list are Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda, Yunet Cairo Reigada, Yaquelin Heredia Morales and Marieta Martínez Aguilera.

Two of them “are also members of the harshly repressed Ladies in White movement,” says the text.

The CCDHRN submitted a request for opposition detainees to receive an “international recognition as prisoners of conscience.” A request that will extend also to “at least 20 peaceful political prisoners.”

The Commission, chaired by dissident Elizardo Sanchez, will continue demanding the “release, for purely humanitarian reasons, of 22 other prisoners classified as counterrevolutionary who have been in the Castro regime’s prisons for between 24 and 13 years.” The text details that these prisoners are being held “under inhuman and degrading conditions.”

Dissidents Call Meeting With Obama Positive And Give Him A List Of Political Prisoners / EFE, 14ymedio

Barack Obama meeting with dissidents in Havana on Tuesday. (14ymedio)
Barack Obama meeting with dissidents in Havana on Tuesday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 22 March 2016 – Several dissidents who met with President Barack Obama in Havana this Tuesday, assessed the meeting as “positive” and “frank,” and one of them delivered a list of 89 political prisoners recorded by the group he leads.

Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), said Obama was “very clear” and reiterated to the participants at the meeting “his commitment to the cause of human rights and democratic freedoms.”

Sanchez explained that during the dialogue with the US president, he handed him a copy of the list of 89 political prisoners prepared by his group, continue reading

the only one that undertakes an ongoing documentation of these cases in Cuba.

For veteran government opponent, the balance of Obama’s visit to the island was “favorable to the cause of bilateral democracy” but he lamented that far from encouraging an “atmosphere of calm” the Cuban government unleashed “a wave of political repression” which, according to the records of his group translates to between 450 and 500 arrests across the island between Saturday and today.

For his part, the former political prisoner of the 2003 Black Spring “Group of 75,” Jose Daniel Ferrer, one of the thirteen government opponents invited to the meeting, described as “very positive” the meeting because “it was a show of solidarity with those of us who are fighting for the reconstruction of the nation.

“We talked about the process initiated with the Cuban government to normalize bilateral relations, also about his visit, and we also had the opportunity to make suggestions and give opinions on issues that we believe should continue to be pursued and what should not be done in this case,” said Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

Miriam Leiva, also invited to the event, considered it “very open” because the president listened to the participants who “could express their views on the current situation of repression and human rights in Cuba” and also he made comments.

“There were some who raised positions contrary to the policies of President Obama, but in the end he expounded on his views about what he is doing and what he can do to benefit the Cuban people,” said the independent journalist.

In her opinion, the fact that Barack Obama set aside a space in his busy schedule of about 48 hours in Havana for this meeting at the US embassy, ​​represented “recognition and support” for the Cuban opposition.

Antonio González-Rodiles, who heads the Independent Estado de Sats (State of Sats) project, said the meeting was “very frank” and led to a debate in which “everyone raised their point of view and President Obama heard the different positions.”

Rodiles, critical of the new US approach to Cuba, said he told Obama his doubts about the process of normalization of relations and the “enormous level of violence and repression” in recent times.

He also criticized that “we have not heard from their government a clear condemnation regarding these excessive violations against the dissidence.”

Also at the meeting dissidents and activists such as the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler; Guillermo Fariñas; Manuel Cuesta Morua, of the Progressive Arc; and the critical intellectual Dagoberto Valdes.

In brief remarks to reporters about the meeting, Obama said that one of the objectives of the normalization begun with Cuba is to be able to “hear directly” from the Cuban people and ensure that they also “have a voice” in the new stage initiated between the two countries fifteen months ago.

Note: Cuban dissidents, independent journalists and human rights activists present at the meeting were: Angel Yunier Remon, Antonio Rodiles, Juana Mora Cedeno, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Laritza Diversent, Berta Soler, Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez, Guillermo Fariñas, Nelson Alvarez Matute, Miriam Celaya Gonzales, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Miriam Leiva Viamonte, Elizardo Sanchez.

Obama Praises The Courage Of Dissidents In An Unprecedented Meeting / EFE, 14ymedio

US President Barack Obama meets with representatives of Cuban independent civil society in Havana (14ymedio)
US President Barack Obama meets with representatives of Cuban independent civil society in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 22 March 2016 — The president of the United States, Barack Obama, praised the “courage” of the dissidents and representatives of independent civil society Cuba at the beginning of the meeting held with them at the headquarters of the United States Embassy in Havana this Tuesday.

In brief remarks, Obama stressed that one of the objectives of normalization with Cuba is to be able to “hear directly” from the Cuban people and to ensure that they also “have a voice” in the new stage initiated between the two countries.

The meeting with president of the United States was attended by Berta Soler (Ladies in White), Miriam Celaya (activist and freelance journalist), Manuel Cuesta Morua (Progressive Arc), Miriam Leiva (freelance journalist), Guillermo Fariñas (former political prisoner and 2010 Sakharov Human Rights Prize recipient), Antonio G. Rodiles (State of SATS), Elizardo Sánchez (Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation), Nelson Matute (Afro-ACLU president, defense organization for black people discriminated against because of their sexual orientation), Laritza Diversent (Cubalex), Dagoberto Valdes (Coexistence ), Jose Daniel Ferrer (UNPACU), Yunier Angel Remon (rapper The Critic ) and Juana Mora Cedeño (Rainbow Project).

“It often requires great courage to be active in civil life here in Cuba,” Obama said, adding he said.

“There are people here who have been arrested. Some in the past and others very recently,” stressed the president.

On Monday, at least a dozen dissidents were arrested in Cuba, according to the dissident Cuban National Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), which also counts nearly 90 political prisoners on the island.

Participating in the meeting with Obama were government opponents who support the new US policy toward the island, as is the case of Cuesta Morua, and others who criticize it, as is the case with Berta Soler of the Ladies in White.

Cuban Human Rights Group Reports 12 New Arrests Of Dissidents / EFE, 14ymedio

Cuban activists marching in Havana hours before the arrival of President Barack Obama. (@Jangelmoya/Twitter)
Cuban activists marching in Havana hours before the arrival of President Barack Obama “Obama traveling to Cuba is not entertainment. No more violations of Human Rights. We All March”. (@Jangelmoya/Twitter)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 21 March 2016 – At least a dozen government opponents were arrested this Monday in Cuba, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), which also identifies nearly 90 political prisoners on the island.

Among those arrested for the second day are the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, and some members of that women’s group, along with her husband, former political prisoner Angel Moya, according to Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the CCDHRN, the only group regularly documenting such incidents in Cuba.

Also on Monday the arrest of Antonio González-Rodiles, who heads the independent Estado de Sats (State of Sats) project, along with his partner, activist Ailer González, near continue reading

their home, a family source confirmed.

Elizardo Sanchez said his group is trying to specify the number of arrests on the island since Sunday, when US president, Barack Obama arrived in Cuba.

That same day, some 60 dissidents were arrested several hours after the Ladies in White’s habitual Sunday march.

With regards to the number of political prisoners in Cuba, Sanchez said he currently has in his record to 77 prisoners convicted for political reasons plus one who is serving a sentence of house arrest.

He explained that that group adds the 11 released under a “furlough,” a legal concept that does not annul the sentences imposed during the crackdown of the “Black Spring” of 2003 that led to the jailing 75 dissidents on the island.

Cuban President Raul Castro denied on Monday that there are political prisoners in the country, in the press conference he gave in Havana with President Obama.

Castro challenged a journalist to present a list of political prisoners and assured him that if they really existed they would be freed that very night.

“Give me the list of political prisoners to release them now,” Castro said in answering the reporter’s question.

Ladies in White and Opponents Arrested After Sunday March in Havana / EFE, 14ymedio

Cuban activists marching in Havana hours before the arrival of President Barack Obama. (@Jangelmoya/Twitter)
Cuban activists marching in Havana hours before the arrival of President Barack Obama. (@Jangelmoya/Twitter)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 20 March 2016 – Some fifty Ladies in White and other opposition members such as the graffiti artist El Sexto and Antonio Gonzales Rodlies were arrested in Havana today after the usual Sunday march of the female dissident group, which was answered with a counter-repudiation-demonstration by government supporters.

At the end of the usual peaceful march after Mass at Havana’s Santa Rita Church, the Ladies in White tried to walk to other streets away from their route, where the ruling party had concentrated groups linked to the government which began to jeer at them.

The incident, which with varying intensity has been repeated every Sunday for 46 weeks, took place a few hours before the arrival on the Island of the president of the United States, Barack Obama, who during his historic visit continue reading

will meet with members of the dissidence.

The Ladies in White along with a group of dissidents and activists from other opposition organizations gathered under the platform #TodosMarchamos (We All March) and walked some hundred yards carrying a banner with the inscription, “Obama, coming to Cuba is not entertainment. No more human rights violations,” and threw copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on reaching a side street.

At that point they encountered the counter-demonstration of several hundred government sympathizers carrying signs reading “#We All March for a prosperous and sustainable socialism,” and “#We All March for Cuba,” and shouting “Fidel, Fidel” in reference to the Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Other male activists who accompanied the Ladies in White were handcuffed and put into police cars.

Even after the arrests, the pro-government group of protesters continued in the area and circled the block dancing to a popular conga headed by a contingent from the University Students Federation (FEU).

Previously, the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, told EFE that her group calls on President Obama during his visit to send “a clear message of support to the people of Cuba, given that the United States has always wanted good things and democracy for the island.”

“We also want to demand that the Cuban government immediately release all political prisoners, enact a general amnesty and to stop police violence,” added Soler.

Soler said that if she can talk with President Obama in Havana, she will him that “nothing has changed here nor is it going to change, he has come to a Cuba that is repressed and he will leave a Cuba that is repressed.”

The first visit by a president of the United States in the last 88 years will begin today with the arrival of Barack Obama, who in announcing his trip said one of its purposes was to influence the situation of human rights on the island, at a time when the dissidence has denounced an increase in repression.

Laura Pollán Ladies in White Civic Movement Letter to President Obama

Laura Labrada Pollán, Laura Pollán's daughter
Laura Labrada Pollán, Laura Pollán’s daughter

10 March 2016

His Excellency Mr. Barack Obama
President of the United States of America

I extend to you the most cordial welcome to our country and wish you a happy stay in this land, which you can now feel as your own.

Cuba and the United States of America share a long history of friendship which has not been erased throughout more than 57 years of dictatorship in my country. It is time now that our citizens to meet at the middle of the bridge, and what they feel cannot be separated by any government or group. continue reading

We, as members of the Laura Pollán Ladies in White Civic Movement, an NGO dedicated to the liberation of political prisoners and aid to our people in general, thank you for the courage you have shown in changing an approach that has not been effective for more than five decades in transforming the current state of affairs in my country. The dictatorship gains strength from confrontation, and not from negotiation and compromise.

Our nation needs a change. Civil society has been growing, stimulated by so many decades of hardships and attempts to destroy it. You can do much for our people. Empowering our population is among the first steps to achieve several of our objectives: freedom of expression, of the press, a multi-party system, and a dignified future for our children.

We know that it is still too soon to appreciate the results of these policy changes, but we are confident that subsequent US administrations will know how to build upon this first rock that you bravely dedicated to the liberty of our people. Cuba is grateful for it, and needs it.

We believe in your sincerity when you say that your efforts are to empower our civil society and not to support a government that has visited great afflictions on its populace. The politics of compromise is vital to achieve peaceful and lasting changes, as you said on 17 December 2014. Perhaps you have been able, as none of your predecessors, to convince the Cuban government that it is time for a change.

My mother, Laura Pollán, who died under circumstances that lead to suspicions she was assassinated, was always very clear about the role her government, as well as others of the free world, would play in the changes that necessarily needed to come. For her labor in defense of the rights of Cubans and the promotion of democracy, she was honored, during your administration, by the National Endowment for Democracy.

We hope that during this very short visit you will plan on the possibility of hearing from the lips of our people and our civil society the reality that we live in Cuba. We would like for you to meet with us as part of that opposition with which you said you would consult during your visit. From our women you will hear firsthand all that is happening in our nation, and the sentiments of the Cuban woman who, like Michelle, love freedom.

When you depart from our country on 22 March, I assure you that you will carry Cuba in your heart, and you will hold in your hand one of your greatest achievements.

You will know how to represent the free world, and you will be the voice for those of us who cannot speak.

Laura María Labrada Pollán
Laura Pollán Ladies in White Civic Movement

Source: Along the Malecon (Tracey Eaton)

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuban Dissidents in Western Democrats’ Selfies / Iván García

After leaving mass at St. Rita of Casia Church in Miramar, members of the Ladies in White gather a few meters from the church at Ghandi Park under a banner that reads, "TodosMarchamos" (We All March). The have been coming here for more than forty-four consecutive Sundays and their peaceful protests almost always end in assaults and arrests. From the New York Times.
After leaving mass at St. Rita of Casia Church in Miramar, members of the Ladies in White gather a few meters from the church at Ghandi Park under a banner that reads, “TodosMarchamos” (We All March). The have been coming here for more than forty-four consecutive Sundays and their peaceful protests almost always end in assaults and arrests. From the New York Times.

Ivan Garcia, 7 March 2016 — Between repression by the regime and the disdain of democratic governments, peaceful opposition in Cuba is paying too high a price for its shortcomings and lack of popular support. But let us not forget that they are victims, not the ones responsible for our national disaster.

The best screenwriters are undeniably good at turning villains into saints and can very discretely upend the ethical values of their readers and viewers.

Even those who never run a red light are pained to see criminals like Vito Corleone in The Godfather or Pablo Escobar in a Colombian mini-series caught and crushed by law enforcement. continue reading

The moral reversal that leads an audience to applaud when a bank robber escapes with the money in a Hollywood film is applicable to political dramas as well.

I find it hard to believe that François Hollande or Barack Obama, presidents of stable democracies, are thrilled at the prospect of sitting down with a consummate autocrat like Raul Castro.

The government of the Castro brothers has all the ingredients of a true dictatorship. Cuba is the only country in the concert of western nations that outlaws independent political parties and non-governmental media outlets.

Let’s get serious. While economic strain will always be better than sanctions, one cannot ignore certain basic truths. Cuba is no El Dorado when it comes to business. The country lacks an independent judiciary and a regulatory framework, essential elements for local entrepreneurs. The domestic market is also small and has limited purchasing power.

The game plan could be a bit more subtle. The goal of this political chess match is to dismantle the Castro’s economic and ideological madhouse with a high-profile strategy.

But leaders of democratic countries should not sidestep Cuba’s opposition figures, much less take selfies with them in back rooms just to appear politically correct.

The Castros are not the movie’s good guys. They are part of an entrenched gang that confuses democracy with personal loyalty. The failure of the revolution, the inefficiency of the system and material hardships were not caused by the opposition, none of whom hold any official positions.

I understand that one must negotiate with those in power. And the Castros have almost absolute control in Cuba. But not listening with your own ears to those who are being repressed is a huge political blunder for those who present themselves as democrats.

And that is what is happening. Since the restoration of diplomatic relations on December 17, numerous important American politicians and officials have visited Havana. Very few of them, however, have met with any dissidents or, if they have, they have spoken only with that segment of the opposition that approves of change.

They have always been last minute meetings involving coffee and ambiguous speeches. They end with an official looking at his watch, then quickly saying goodbye lest he miss his flight. This pattern could be observed on August 14, 2015 after the opening of the US embassy in Cuba.

The Department of State has not extended invitations to any dissidents or independent journalists. The one previous meeting was brief. When it was time for the batboys to gather up the equipment and photos were being taken — Cuban dissidents love to have their pictures taken — the talk turned to trivial issues.

It is not known if Barack Obama or the American embassy has scheduled any meetings with opposition figures or independent journalists during the upcoming presidential visit, scheduled for March 21 and 22.

The Cuban dissident movement is not a virtuous wasteland. Quite the opposite. Though marginalized, beaten and censured, its members continue to pound their fist on the table with authority. They do not, however, have an effective strategy for attracting followers from the ranks of ordinary Cubans.

They walk through the streets as though invisible. Their lobbying efforts are directed overseas. They have not been able to engage or enlist their neighbors to their cause. And communitarian, political initiatives such as Candidates for Change, an effort to promote democracy through participation in parliamentary elections, is looked down upon by some dissident leaders.

Is there disagreement? Yes, there is. A reasonable approach in such a contentious situation would be to come up with a common platform in which various groups or factions can agree on at most three or four common points.

This was the approach tried in 1996 by the Cuban Council and more recently in Venezuela by the Unity Roundtable for Democratic Action. But the towering egos of the dissidents always gets in the way of their good intentions.

Are they receiving money from US government foundations? Certainly. Engaging in political acitivism takes money. The strategy should be one of transparency, democracy within organizations and accountability.

Purists might see this as interference by a foreign government in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. But I would assure them that not one cent has been spent on the purchase of arms, the preparation of Molotov cocktails or for drafting a plan to assault a military barracks, as Fidel Castro did on July26, 1953.

The funds that the US government gives to dissident groups are public expenditures. The bulk of the money is spent on bureaucracy or goes into the pockets of those in Florida who have turned anti-Castroism into an industry.

It is also certainly true that there are and have been dissidents in Cuba who appropriate what is not theirs. Shortages, a lack of civic mindedness or lack of self-control have led some to act like tribal chieftains.

But you cannot put everyone in the same boat. Corruption and a lack of transparency are even worse in the regime. A dissident is not divorced from the reality in which he lives.

If they behave like a Fidel Castro in civilian clothes, it is because they were born and grew up in a country led by military strongmen. Both dissidents and government officials wear guayaberas. They do not know how to take advantage of new tools like the internet, their speech is filled with jargon and they do not know the value of smiling for the cameras.

The shortcomings of Castro officials are replicated in their antagonists. But there is one notable difference: peaceful opponents endure physical assaults, arrests and acts of repudiation.

Democrats from western countries would be acting consistently with their own teachings if they listened to the frustrations of the opposition. It would be a good way to avoid betraying themselves. Politics is the art of the possible.

Ivan Garcia

Marti Noticias, March 3, 2016


Obama Advisor Ben Rhodes Meets With Cuban Activists In Miami, During A “Historic” Meeting / 14ymedio, Marion Penton

 President Barack Obama’s key advisor on Cuba policy, Ben Rhodes, during his meeting with representatives of civil society on the island. (14ymedio)
President Barack Obama’s key advisor on Cuba policy, Ben Rhodes, during his meeting with representatives of civil society on the island. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 11 March 2016 – President Obama’s top advisor on US policy toward Cuba, Ben Rhodes, met this Friday with representatives from the island’s Civil Society and exile organizations. The meeting took place in Miami, concluding with a chat with Cuban-Americans that the official held at Miami Dade College.

The purpose of the meeting, which lasted several hours behind closed doors, was for Rhodes to listen to the aspirations and opinions of those groups in advance of President Obama’s visit to the island. Several of those attending agreed that the meeting was an “historic moment.” continue reading

Remberto Perez, vice president of the Cuban National Foundation (CANF) in New Jersey, explained that everyone expressed their points of view regarding the national reality before the US president’s visit. “It is a unique and extraordinary opportunity. The fact that we are doing this is a sign that the work of the internal and exiled dissidence has borne fruit,” he said.

Opposition member Martha Beatriz Roque, a member of the Black Spring’s Group of 75, confirmed that she will not meet with the US president, as speculated in some media. “It is not necessary that Obama receive me because I have been able to express my concerns to Ben Rhodes,” and she added, “I am super satisfied with this meeting,” said the dissident, who will not be on the island during the president’s visit because she is going to be traveling to Spain.

Leticia Ramos, a representative of the Ladies in White from Matanzas province, announced that Obama sent a letter to the organization and expressed his desire to meet with them in Havana. “So far we have high expectations and the president has informed us that he wants to meet with us,” said Ramos. Although she said they are “facing an uncertainty” because “the regime is going to prevent it at all costs” and “the arbitrary arrests will be massive to avoid this meeting.”

The Ladies in White have let Rhodes know that the visit should be directed “truly by the Cuban people” and he should try to ensure that “his speech reaches ordinary Cubans.” Initially, the position of the Ladies in White had been very critical of Obama’s visit to the island. With regards to the letter sent by the president, no details are available because “it was sent sealed” to Berta Soler, the representative of the organization.

The youngest activist at the meeting, Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, national coordinator of the Youth Front of the Patriotic Union of Cuban (UNPACU), told this newspaper that “the meeting surprised all of us in the most positive way,” because “we thought we would be coming to explain to Obama’s advisor the reality of the Cuban people, but to our surprise he knows it very well.”

Oliva Torres agrees with the rest of those present that it was an “historic” meeting and, in his opinion, “there was very good communication, great harmony between our approaches and his responses.”

“We are all demanding the same thing: we want the American president to go to Cuba and direct his discourse to the people of Cuba, not to the government,” said the UNPACU member.

The meeting was moderated by Jorge Mas Santos, president of the CANF, who praised the attitude of “these brave men and women (…) who keep alive the flame of hope on the island.” The Cuban-American extended his appreciation to the White House and stressed that meetings like this show that “beyond the Straits of Florida that separate us, we are one people.”

Mas Santos said that “President Obama’s advisor was able to listen to you directly, your dreams, your aspirations, the totalitarian nature of a regime that has oppressed our island for more than five decades, and through your suggested this liberating message can reach the mouth of President Obama on his visit to Cuba.”

‘El Sexto’ Exhibits the Pigs That Sent Him to Jail in Cuba / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

'Raul' and 'Fidel', the pigs from the performance art piece banned in Cuba, were paraded through the Market Gallery in Miami on Thursday. (14ymedio)
‘Raul’ and ‘Fidel’, the pigs from the performance art piece banned in Cuba, were paraded through the Market Gallery in Miami on Thursday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 February 2016 – Last night in Miami Danilo Maldonado (known as ‘El Sexto’, The Sixth), was able to show off the pigs Raul and Fidel, which cost him ten months in prison in Cuba. The opening of the exhibition “Pork,” at the Market Gallery in Miami Beach this Thursday, included the performance art piece banned in Cuba at the end of 2014, in which the two pigs walked peacefully around in an area restricted for their display, while a crowd gathered around and flashes lit up the pigs, who now and then appeared to pose.

El Sexto is an artist of freedom. At times irreverent and iconoclastic, but decidedly sensitive and intuitive. “The only way to find freedom is to go out and get it. I am still looking for it, but only this search is what frees you from a state of repression,” he told 14ymedio while preparing for the opening of his first exposition in the United States.

Enlivened by the well-known and controversial band Porno Para Ricardo, the event welcomed hundreds of participants, especially young Cuban Americans, and was a showcase for the work of the artist imprisoned for his performance art piece in Havana’s Central Park, inspired by Orwell, that never saw the light of day until last night in Miami. Since then, the image of the two pigs painted olive-green with the names of Fidel and Raul on their sides, accompany El Sexto wherever he goes. continue reading

“For me, the pig chosen by Orwell was the closest thing to the characters I wanted to represent. But in addition, it is the only thing left to us, there is no fish, no chicken… all there is is pork,” he said, to explain his choice.

Maldonado began his artist work painting graffiti on the walls of Havana which he signed underneath with the pseudonym “El Sexto” (The Sixth), as a way of protesting against the huge campaign financed by the Cuban state to demand the release of the five spies considered heroes in Cuba. His social criticism and sarcastic messages were completely unacceptable to the authorities, who interpreted his art as a hostile act.

“I have been a follower of El Sexto for a long time. His work shows the injustice of the Castro regime, the lack of freedom, Valle Grande Prison (where he was held), the hunger strike he was forced to undertake…” commented Sheila Oliva Gonzales, a young Cuban who graduated from the National School of Arts in Cuba and now lives in Miami.

Despite everything, his imprisonment was a learning experience for El Sexto. “In Cuba there is a society that is falling apart, a country that is collapsing and this system has no solutions.”

The trip to the United States has represented a qualitative leap in Maldonado’s artistic career, but also on a personal level. “It helps you to want to transmit what you see to those over here. Here people believe in big dreams, and they are motivated to work, they have a purpose. That makes you fee.”

Ramon Alejandro, one of the great Cuban painters of exile, was present at the exhibition. “I did not know that he was a photographer, or that he painted on fabric, I only knew the drawings that circulated on the internet. He is a very good painter and what he does is very interesting, independent of its social and political implications,” he commented.

Others who were also there were Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, and Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, director of the Estado de Sats project. “It’s fantastic that he can have the exposition here, because he couldn’t do it in Cuban. It seems that Raul has bought this name and now it is his property, and the name Fidel as well. Now no one can have it, not even the pigs,” lamented Soler.

Danilo Maldonado, who is very close to the Todos Marchamos (We All March) initiative undertaken by several civil society groups on the island and in exile, has said on numerous occasions that his intention is to return to Cuba in March and to continue attending, along with his mother and grandmother, Santa Rita Church, with the Ladies in White. “The importance of Todos Marchamos is that no one has dared to do this before now, to take to the streets,” affirmed the artist.

Former Democratic congressman Joe Garcia, who was also present at the evening, praised Maldonado’s courage, because he had the opportunity to leave Cuba but decided to say. “This makes him a good Cuba, a patriot. The most heroic acts are those silent acts that people undertake to improve their country. And there are thousands and thousands of Cubans who are doing this every day,” he said in praise of El Sexto.

One of the most moving moments of the night, along with the realization of the performance art piece aborted in Havana, was the moment when El Sexto proceeded to get a tattoo of a declaration asking for the freedom of the Venezuelan politician Leopoldo Lopez, imprisoned in that country, and the Cuban political prisoners.