The Ladies In White Face Another Sunday Of Repression In Havana / 14ymedio

Ladies in White during the pilgrimage this Sunday. (Angel Moya)
Ladies in White during the pilgrimage this Sunday. (Angel Moya)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 October, 2015 – Fifty-nine Ladies in White and 20 activists gathered this Sunday in Gandhi Park in Havana’s Playa district, despite the arrests previous to their traditional Sunday peregrination. After a summary of their weekly activities, the dissidents were detained, according to a report from witnesses at the scene.

From the early hours, the regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque denounced the arrests of 12 human rights activists who had traveled to Santa Rita parish. Among those arrested with the mother and siblings of Zaqueo Baez Guerrero, one of the members of the of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who had approached Pope Francis in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

Others arrested on Sunday included the regime opponents Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, Ailer Gonzalez and Felix Navarro. The latter lives in the town of Perico, Matanzas, and traveled to the capital to show his support to the human rights movement.

Blogger Agustín López Canino denounced his arrest and reported that he was handcuffed at the corner of 5th and 30th streets, in the Playa district, together with two other colleagues. The activists detailed that he was “taken to the outskirts of Havana” to prevent his accompanying the Ladies in White during their Sunday march.

Meanwhile, in Colón, Matanzas, independent journalist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo reported ten Ladies in White marched in Colón, Matanzas, for the release of the political prisoners.

The leader of the Ladies in White movement, Berta Soler said that Yaquelín Boni, an activist detained since Thursday during a protest outside Combinado del Este prison and accused of “disobedience,” has now been released.

The IAPA Does Not See Progress In Press Freedom In Cuba / 14ymedio

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)
Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 2 October 2015 — Within a few hours of the opening of the 71st General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), scheduled between 2 and 6 October in Charleston (South Carolina), regional reports from the Commission for Freedom of the Press and Information were made public. According to the organization, ten months after the beginning of reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, journalism on the island continues to be “dogged by censorship in the Cuban Communist Party monopoly over the national media.”

The report details that in Cuba there are still no signs of “economic improvement,” nor an increase in the respect for “human rights, greater freedom of expression, association and the press,” derived from the process of diplomatic rapprochement that both countries are experiencing.

With special alarm, the text includes the threats and arrests made this summer by State Security against the reporter Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, when he tried to document in videos and photos the repression suffered by the Ladies in White. The independent journalist denounced the repressive methods against the exercise of the unofficial press, including detentions for “several days without records of arrest nor of the seizure of our belongings” and the “confiscation of the tools of our work.” continue reading

The case of the artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as “El Sexto,” was also highlighted by the IAPA as evidence of the lack of freedom of expression on the island. Nine months after his arrest for planning a performance, the Graffiti artist remains in prison without having been brought to trial. This week Amnesty International named him as a prisoner of conscience.

 

The IAPA report also denounces “the censorship maintained on digital sites, as is the case of sites like Cubaencuentro, Martinoticias, and the digital newspaper 14ymedio, as well as other sites that address the Cuban issue from a perspective critical” of the authorities.

Raul Castro’s government maintains a tendency towards “paramilitarization” of the repressions, with physical and verbal violence but without leaving legal footprints, says the report. This method was demonstrated during Pope Francis’s visit in mid-September, “particularly with the detention of the opponent Martha Beatriz Roque and the independent journalist Miriam Leiva, when both were traveling to accept an invitation from the Aposolic Nunciature to greet the pontiff at Havana Cathedral,” it says.

Civil society wins spaces

Among the achievements of Cuban civil society, IAPA enumerates the first Encuentro de Pensamiento (Meeting of Ideas) for Cuba, hosted by the independent think tank Center for Coexistence Studies in the city of Pinar del Río and the magazine of the same name. Founded in 2007, the publication has already published 45 issues and addresses issues ranging from culture to citizenship.

The opening of 35 WiFi points to connect to the internet also found space in the report, although the text reminds us that Cuba remains one of the least connected countries in the world, with only 5%, which is reduced to 1% in the case of broadband.

Half of Latin Americans Have Internet Access, But Only 5% of Cubans Do / 14ymedio

The reports comments on the parole granted to the writer Angel Santiesteban and transfer to a minimum security prison mid-year of the journalist Jose Antonio Torres, a former correspondent for the Party newspaper Granma, accused of espionage.

The report made special mention of the illegal compendium of audiovisuals and alternative information, known as the “weekly packet.” The IAPA said that the weekly packet “has continued to gain ground among the Cuban population and is causing great concern in the ruling party,” while the official press continues to be characterized by self-censorship and the absence of “a journalism of investigation, that puts pressure on government entities to have greater transparency about their internal workings.”

During the 71st General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association, there will be seminars run by the Press Institute that will focus on current issues under the title “Beyond the Digital Transformation.” Other panels will address the growing contribution of women in the media, value added and copyrights, according to information from the organizers.

The meeting will feature Literature Nobelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who will participate in a special session and be interviewed by journalist Andres Oppenheimer.

Regime Arrests Berta Soler and Martha Beatriz Roque When They Go to Greet the Pope / Diario de Cuba

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, 20 September 2015, Havana–The government opponent Martha Beatriz Roque was arrested this Saturday in Havana, activist Ailer González reported via Twitter. Sources from the Ladies in White informed Diario de Cuba that Roque was invited to the Apostolic Nunciature to greet Pope Francis upon his arrival.

Also invited to welcome the Holy Father before the Nunciature was the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler. Dissident sources fear that she has been arrested along with her husband, the ex-political prisoner Ángel Moya, said Ailer González.

The activist also denounced “power outages” that opponents’ telephone services are undergoing. Attempts to communicate by telephone with various opponents were unsuccessful.

For his part, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), José Daniel Ferrer, sent word via a communiqué of the arrest of 26 activists in Santa Clara who were intending to travel to Havana to attend the Pope’s mass on Sunday. In the capital, Ferrer said, five members of his organization have been arrested.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Pre-Pope Arrests of Dissidents Underway / Martha Beatriz Roque

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Lady in White Leticia Herreria arrested Thursday 2 AM in Matanzas whereabouts unknown
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Lady in White Marta Belkis Rodriguez arrested 7 am in her house
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Leonardo Rodriguez member of Convivencia Think Tank surrounded in Camajuani — under house arrest
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Lady in White Gladys Zapote arrested today on leaving her house
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Husband reports arrest of Lady in White Marlen Gonzalez
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Lady in White Maylen Maidike in Ciego de Avila threatened by political police not to go to Havana
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State Security places Librado Linares 75 under house arrest in Villa Clara
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Ladies in White threatened in Matanzas Tania Echevarria, Magra Garcia, Julia Sylvia
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Matanzas Ladies in White arrested yesterday warned they cannot get into vehicles, woman are watching their houses
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Jean Michel Duarte Sta Isabel Lajas from Reflection Movement arrested, warned not to attend Pope’s Mass
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The syndrome of repression around a Pope’s visit is making itself felt in Cuba
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Reports received that dissidents’ houses are under siege by political police and mobs

Ladies in White Denounce Arrests That Began Early Sunday Morning / 14ymedio

Ladies in White in front of the church of Santa Rita, on 5th Avenue in Havana this last June (14ymedio / File)
Ladies in White in front of the church of Santa Rita, on 5th Avenue in Havana this last June (14ymedio / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 30 August 2015 — The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, reported several arrests of opponents and independent journalists beginning early today. Those detained were prevented from attending Mass at Santa Rita Church and from participating in the traditional Sunday march along Fifth Avenue. Despite the strong police operation deployed around the parish, at least 40 Ladies in White and 15 activists managed to arrive at the site.

The blogger and activist Agustín López Canino was prevented from leaving his house by the police car with the number 632 and reporter Juan Gonzalez Febles was arrested before reaching the location of the march, according to sources from the dissidence. This newspaper was able verify the existence of a strong police operation on several streets around the meeting site of the Ladies in White at Gandhi park starting before ten o’clock in the morning.

For her part, the dissident Martha Beatriz Roque reported via Twitter the “troubling proximity between the forces of repression” and the Ladies in White who were able to reach the park. In particular, a rapid response brigade gathered at the corner of 3rd avenue and 24th, as reported by the regime opponent Juan Angel Moya.

As they left the place, the police proceeded to violently arrest the assembled activists. To date their whereabouts are unknown, but in the past the women have been transferred to a processing center in Tarara, east of Havana and men to the place known as Vivac in Calabazar.

The Other Flag / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana
Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 15 August 2015 — Six hours after the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes at the US embassy along the Malecon, a similar ceremony occurred on 150th Street in the Cubanacan neighborhood where the official residence of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, charge d’affaires of that country, is located.

All of the heads of the United States Interest Section have lived in this mansion in recent years, and there is a flagpole in its garden. Across from it, congregated hundreds of guests who did not physically fit in the small space where hours earlier American and Cuban officials had witnessed the symbolic act that opened the US embassy in Havana. continue reading

The celebration at the residence was attended by diplomats, representatives of civil society, clergy, intellectuals and Cuban artists along with the large delegation that accompanied John Kerry in his trip to Cuba, including the three Marines who, 54 years ago, lowered the flag when the countries broke off relations, who given the honor of participating in the raising. The US Army Brass Quintet played an international repertoire, with no shortage Cuban pieces such as Guantanamera and Manisero.

In a half-hour meeting, representatives of civil society shared with Kerry their concerns and expectations

In the official residence John Kerry held a half-hour meeting behind closed doors with representatives of civil society activists and independent journalists, including Dagoberto Valdes, Elsa Morejon, Hector Maseda, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Martha Beatriz Roque, Miriam Leiva, Oscar Elias Biscet, Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar. Those present shared with Kerry the concerns and expectations generated by the restoration of relations between the two countries and presented an overview of the different projects they are engaged in.

Although the official media did not mention this activity on the busy schedule of the Secretary of State, it was one of the moments that marked the character of the Kerry’s visit to Cuba because it was the only thing that could provoke, and in fact did provoke, friction and controversy.

The Cuban leaders were annoyed because they would have preferred a distancing between the highest US official to step on Cuban soil in half a century, and this part of the non-conforming Cuban citizenry, persecuted, slandered and discriminated against by the government.

Others who shared this annoyance were some opponents, such as the leader of the Ladies in White Berta Soler and activist Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, who declined the invitation they received because they believe that the US government has betrayed them “to establish relations with the dictatorship.”

If there is no progress on the issue of human rights in Cuba, there will be no lifting of the embargo, Kerry said plainly

At the meeting there was nothing that deserves to be classified as secret talks or as parallel agreements. The Cuban guests offered a general explanation of the four points of consensus from civil society, promoted by the Civil Society Open Forum, expressed the need for the United States to unblock all brakes it applies today on internet access for Cubans, and mentioned different initiatives such as developing proposals for a new Electoral Law, creating a “think tank” on Cuban affairs, and the civic actions of different political platforms.

Similarly, guests expressed the concern that main beneficiary of the restoration of relations is the Cuban government, and that the Cuban people will continue to suffer just as if nothing had occurred. Perhaps most important was the response of Kerry on this point. The Secretary of State committed to maintaining his government’s interest in advances on issues of human rights in Cuba. If no steps are taken in this direction there will be no lifting of the embargo, he said plainly.

Redefining the Cuban Opposition After 17 December / Cubanet, Alexis Jardines Chacon

Clockwise from top left – Cuban activists: Manuel Cuesta Morua, Antonio Rodiles, Guillermo Fariñas, Berta Soler, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Laritza Diversent
Clockwise from top left – Cuban activists: Manuel Cuesta Morua, Antonio Rodiles, Guillermo Fariñas, Berta Soler, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Laritza Diversent

cubanet square logoCubanet, Alexis Jardines Chacon, Miami, 7 August 2015 – The First National Cuban Conference will be held August 13-15 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is an event that Cubans United of Puerto Rico have been preparing for a year, inviting organizations from both shores. The meeting hopes to focus on the unity of diversity. What follows explores the nature of the differences and the bases on which unity might rest.

The danger of reformism

When Raul Castro took over the nation after the desmerengamiento* of his brother Fidel in 2008, the opposition, to some extent, had to reinvent itself. A series of measures – outstanding among them being the new law regarding travel and emigration – temporarily left the dissidents without an anchor, because they could now leave the country and return without consequences. But the explosive side of the new law was something else: the dissidents soon were more engaged abroad than toward the interior of Cuba. And, naturally, we didn’t have to wait for a media reaction against this kind of tourist-dissent. continue reading

The absence of a structured political opposition leaves civil society activism very vulnerable to the impact of Raul’s reforms. When opposition activity is reduced to a package of demands to the current government, any change undertaken by the regime could exceed the expectations of the dissidence itself. The dissidence, for example, was not prepared to assume to the challenges of the lifting of the travel restrictions, while the effect for the government was a revitalization of its impoverished symbolic capital.

It is a fact that ordinary Cubans are more radical in their anti-Castro convictions than a good part of the so-called opposition. And it is at least curious that from the side of the opposition they are asking for reforms in a system that bases its politics in the reforms of its model (of socialism). The paradox is solved when we realize that the logic of reformism is compatible with the dissidence, but not with the political opposition.

The other crushing blow came from the hand of President Obama. A good part of the dissidence and activists were left outside the umbrella of the American government, now interested in those who unconditionally support the process of normalization.

A major campaign is being conducted – inside and outside of Cuba – to sell the bi-tonal (black/white) scheme of what is taking place. It would seem there are no nuances; whomever does not support the Obama pact, Castro places automatically on the side of the extremism and violence associated with the construct of the extreme-right-reactionary-bloodthirsty-living-in-the-past.

This biased and misleading way of labeling does not recognize the current that defends normalization, but with conditions. Rather, it puts in the same sack a broad spectrum of those it considers hostile to both governments, from the activists of Estado de Sats to those of the Miami exile group Vigilia Mambisa.

The hardcore, instead, pass themselves off as open people with a string of virtues: inclusion, spirit of dialog, pacifism and a long et cetera. In short, they see themselves as what sells, what is in fashion and in tune with the current times. This posture, which bears fruit inside and outside of the country, shows no interest in ordinary Cubans.

Their concern is focused on the environment of relations between the Cuban and the United States governments, so they are only interested defending – moderated through the interior of Cuba and extreme pressure groups, such as Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE) – dialog with the Cuban regime, masked under the innocuous idea of non-confrontation. And it is clear that when there is talk of conditions, from the other side of the opposition spectrum, it is about dialog and rapprochement in general between the governments of Cuba and the United States and not about the classic and sterile demands of the Cuban government before 17 December, which do not transcend the logic of reformism and would have to abandon taking concrete steps in the physical space, for the same reason that they haven’t worked in all the years of the dictatorship.

My question, then – in accord with the premise offered by President Obama – is: if what doesn’t work is changed, why don’t the hardcore supporters of normalization take to the streets to support, at least, the marches of the Ladies in White? If the majority of the Cuban people are anti-Castro and the weak side of the opposition knows that it has been incommunicado vis-à-vis ordinary Cubans, why not go discretely house-to-house to prepare people for a referendum? These are true opposition actions that do not require funds or immolations.

What is the danger, in short, of reformism? That comes from delimiting a front in which the frontiers between the ruling party, the dissidence and the trusted opposition are increasingly erased? In this scenario, the real opposition turns out to be an obstacle.

The light at the end of the tunnel

It is obvious that rulers who adopt the totalitarian model do so with the express purpose of staying in power indefinitely. If this happens in a country like Cuba the chances of regime change, even in the long term are minimal. There is a cultural issue, in this case, which takes its toll. Personally, I am convinced that if Einstein was resurrected and was standing on a corner in Havana, inside of five minutes he would have in front of him a couple of individuals explaining the theory of relativity. These types – in the unlikely event they would allow the genius to discuss the matter – would end up reproaching him with the argument that “you don’t know shit about physics.”

Then comes the issue of the bodeguita, as a friend of mine defines it: in the face of any suggestion of collaboration, if it’s a question of survival it’s every man for himself. One can imagine how difficult it is to unite the dissidence, activists and opposition around an objective that transcends the expectations of a guild. But, even if we make an abstraction of the anthropological-cultural theme, the principal obstacle would stand: are you interested in the validation of a democratic regime, or in democratizing the current regime? Whatever your option you will achieve nothing without dismantling the one-party system. Therefore, consensus – if it were possible – should not be built on the basis of reformist objectives.

In any event, since 17 December things are becoming ever more clear and it will have to be defined on what bases a lobbying in favor of unconditional dialog with the dictatorship and a resistance interaction with ordinary Cubans enter into the extension of the concept of opposition. In the year 2011 – having recently gone into exile – I came to the defense of Estado de Sats before some accusations of Marta Beatriz Roque branding the projects as dissidence-light, and pondered the logic of the traditional opposition, rooted in ideas of heroism and the barricade. The beatings they gave us was the weighty argument that the venerable opposition wielded against us.

Since then, each in his own way, we have been radicalized. I, who thought more as a dissident, now do so from the angle of the opposition. And I don’t know about the ironies of destiny, only that the issue of Cuba is a GPS constantly being relocated: today Antonio Rodiles, leader of Estado de Sats, is the one who receives the beatings and not a few of the old guard opposition look away when the Ladies in White begin their march every Sunday.

Personally, I believe that the conditions are given. Access to public spaces, to the street, is there in front of everyone. It is not a chimera, it is not impossible. If you are an opponent marching with these untamed women you protect the space that they were able to conquer for all of us. Sacred space, because it is the only thing we really have and the only thing that puts the dictatorship in check. If you are an opponent looking to connect with the people, you go house to house – as the Jehovah Witnesses have done in much more difficult times – with the purpose of making every Cuban see the need to put an end to the one-party system through a popular referendum. If you are an opponent you work to give a voice to the people, the ordinary Cuban.

The combination of these three factors could be the unity of purpose sought by the opposition in the diversity of its ways, namely: support, through one’s physical presence, of the Sunday marches, the individual and systematic contact – face-to-face – with the people in the neighborhoods, the blocks and the homes to get them to vote NO to the hegemony of the Cuban Communist Party in the popular vote of 2016; the consequent need for the people to decide how and by whom they should be governed through a plebiscite. This line and its media support is what, in my opinion, defines the opposition camp in Cuba after the moves of 17 December. The rest is also necessary, but not necessarily opposition. Ergo, if this embassy that will soon open in Havana limits its contacts to the reformist scene, then we will know – at least with regards to the issue of Cuba – who is the boss in Washington.

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Alexis Jardines Chacon

Jardines has a degree in Philosophy from Saint Petersburg State University (Russia) with specialization in History of Philosophy. He holds an MA in Philosophy from the same University and a Ph.D. from the University of Havana, an institution where he taught for more than 15 years and where he attained the highest category as a professor. In 2011 he went into exile in Puerto Rico and works as Professor Lecturer at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus. Distinguished Scholar in Residence. Cuban Research Institute, FIU.

*Translator’s note: Desmerengamiento was coined by Fidel Castro to embody, in a single word, the debacle of the Soviet Union. It comes from the word “meringue” and, like a failed meringue, refers to the idea of a complete collapse.

“Paya Was An Example Of Dedication And Persistence” / 14ymedio

Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)
Oswaldo Payá holding the Transitional Program for political change in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 July 2015 — Three years after the death of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, 14ymedio has collected the opinions of some Cuban activists who knew the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement. They is people who shared with him projects and risks, who admired or were inspired by his civic labor. Let these seven testimonies serve to approach the legacy of a man who devoted his best years to achieving greater rights and freedoms for the citizenry.

Father José Conrado

He has left us a testimony of life, a consistent life in service to his people, a courageous life that knew how to respond to the difficulties and the circumstances of the times. A life true to his convictions of faith and his love for his country until his last moment. It is a testimony that we will never forget and at the same time something to be deeply grateful for, because men like him are the ones who are needed, men like him are those who build a people from within.

Martha Beatriz Roque

It is very difficult to summarize in a few lines his life and the legacy he left us. First of all we have to note his actions as a father, a husband and a member of the Catholic Church. He knew how to pass on an excellent education for his children and to sow love in his family. Now we have Rosa María [his daughter], who is continuing his struggle and also persevering in seeing that justice is done for those who murdered him. His life’s companion, Ofelita, is doing the same thing.

Payá witnessed in favor of democracy and his legacy is reflected in the continuity of his work. These men who have acted with dignity in life, in times as difficult as those we Cubans have had to live through, one can say they have not died, they continue with us.

Jose Daniel Ferrer

I always had great respect and great affection for him, and joined in with the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) for many years, especially on Project Varela. I would like to highlight one way he is remembered in the eastern region, especially in the province of Santiago de Cuba. The term that we are referred to by, whether we are members of UNPACU, of CID, of the Republican Party, the Citizens for Democracy, or any other organization, is “Varelistas” [“supporters of Project Varela”], and not because of a direct relation to Felix Verala, who well deserves it for his contribution to Cuban nationality, but precisely because of Project Varela, which not only collected thousands of signatures at that time, but also left a lasting impact.

So that is what people call us there and, on occasion, even our worst enemies do. So every time they call us Varelistas, they are remembering Payá.

Dagoberto Valdes

The first thing I want to point out about the legacy Oswaldo left us is the integrity of one person who throughout his life remained consistent with what he thought and believed. Secondly, he left us what in my view is the most important civic exercise of the last decades: the Varela Project. Third, he left us the perseverance of a man who believed in the cause of freedom and democracy for Cuba and who dedicated his entire life to it.

Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart

His legacy goes far beyond even the Christian Liberation Movement he founded. His precious heritage belongs to Cuba and is found in the shared yearning for democracy and respect for human rights, for all individuals who think as he thought. For this he will always be respected. When Cuba can enjoy democracy, he will not be with is, but his teachings will be.

Felix Navarro Rodriguez

He was a great leader in the peaceful Cuban opposition because he accomplished what no one had been able to accomplish, which was to collect those thousands of signatures supporting Project Varela and doing it within the very laws of Cuba.

Still today I feel I see him, with the enthusiasm that characterized him, seeking unity among Cubans so that we can manage the change in a peaceful way, so that the people would be the owners of their own opinions and be able to put their rights into practice. It fills us with great satisfaction to have been able to be at the side of a man like him at those moments before the Black Spring of 2003, and to continue working with his daughter Rosa María today.

Miriam Leyva

He was a very self-sacrificing person who was characterized by believing in what he was doing. He was convinced that he could fight for a better life for Cubans to achieve progress and democracy for Cuba. He was a practicing Catholic and also a tireless worker. In his specialty, medical equipment repair, he was acknowledged and respected, not only in his workplace but in all public health facilities where he went to provide services.

Payá was an example of self-sacrifice and above all persistence, so his legacy extends beyond the MCL and Project Varela; an example as a human being, as a Cuban. That is what remains in my memory and I appreciate all the years I knew him in the midst of such difficult situations.

A List of Cuban Political Prisoners / 14ymedio, Martha Beatriz Roque

UNPACU activists being arrested. Screen shot from Youtube
UNPACU activists being arrested. Screen shot from Youtube

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Martha Beatriz Roque, Havana, 11 July 2015 — What classifies as a political prisoner is a cause for disagreement among the Cuban opposition. There are varying opinions about who has been jailed for political reasons or not, despite the criteria established by the United Nations and other organizations that concern themselves with these matters.

There are several lists of political prisoners compiled by various organizations circulating in and outside of Cuba. Said lists do not come from any specific dissident groups, but rather from individuals who publicize them. I unsuccessfully tried for all parties to agree on one list. Unfortunately, some individuals who have control over the names of political prisoners refuse to even listen to what others who made their own lists have to say.

Then we also have several groups of lawyers who do not actively contribute to lists of political prisoners, and who do not endorse the ones we have now either. continue reading

When the Cuban government wants a dissident off the streets, it accuses him or her of any crime. Moreover, when an officer of the law beats an opposition figure, the victim ends up accused of assault. Nevertheless, there have been cases in which opposition members were considered political prisoners when their incarcerations have had nothing to do with their political activities.

Twice in recent months, Jaime Cardinal Ortega y Alamino has stated that there are no political prisoners in Cuba. However, he later asked for lists of names of those who might now be incarcerated for political reasons to be forwarded to him. Due to the lack of consensus among the opposition, by now Cardinal Ortega must have several lists, including some containing names of individuals who have committed crimes not even remotely linked to the internal opposition movement, nor whose objective has been the nonviolent democratization of the country.

Several people have spent too many years in jail, and should be freed. Others have been given excessive sentences forbidding them from earning any privileges during their incarceration. These individuals should be classified separately from political prisoners, although we should still advocate for them. We should also continue speaking up for those on the list of prisoners with shorter sentences, namely those unjustly jailed for supposedly having a “special proclivity to commit crimes,” or “dangerousness.”

The Cuban government has never wanted to accept the existence of political prisoners in the country. It wants dissidents to be perceived as common criminals, mercenaries, terrorists, or anything else that would discredit both them and their oppositional activities. Its objective is to multiply political prisoners by zero.

In order to demonstrate how vitally important it is to come to an agreement on the lists of political prisoners and draw up only one that would have the approval of all the opposition, several inquiries have been conducted. We have contacted leaders of organizations, relatives, dissidents, and even some of the individuals whose names appear on the lists. Regardless of all the hard work, we have not always gotten the necessary responses nor reached any real conclusions due to a lack of understanding. Therefore, a commission should be created to analyze each case individually by evaluating the testimonies of witnesses and relatives.

The objective of the information below is not meant to disparage the work of any organization, and much less to belittle any prisoner. Only when we finally understand the importance of collective analysis, can we then reach an appropriate conclusion. I am sure that after each case is closely examined, we will all realize how important it is for us to work together.

It cannot be ruled out that there are no other prisoners jailed for political crimes just because they do not appear on any lists we examined. Cuba’s authorities do not allow access to prison statistics.

I wish to thank the support of the members of the Cuban Network of Community Correspondents (Red Cubana de Comunicadores Comunitarios), without whom it would have been impossible to gather the following data. I would also like to thank in particular Arnaldo Ramos Laururique, member of the Group of 75 and prisoner of conscience.

List of Political Prisoners Gathered from Several Different Organizations:

Coalition of the Opposition of Central Cuba (Damarys Moya Portieles, president)

  • Léster Castillo Rodríguez, sentenced on August 24, 2015 to one year for “dangerousness.”
  • Deibis Sardiñas Moya, sentenced on June 26, 2014 to three years for “dangerousness.”

United Anti-Totalitarian Front (Guillermo “Coco” Fariñas, president)

  • Joel Bencomo Rodríguez (not Díaz, as he appears on another list), sentenced on October 1, 2014 to two years for the crime of “disrespect.” The police have tried transferring him to a forced labor camp, but Mr. Bencomo refuses to budge.
  • Justo Miguel Fariñas Quey, sentenced on May 8, 2014 to six months in jail plus six months house arrest for his role in thwarting José Alberto Botel Cárdenas’ attempt on Guillermo Fariñas’ life. His sentence was made public before the last list was completed on June 19th. Still, his sentence was not noted.
  • Librado Linares, president of the Cuban Reflection Movement, and member of the Group of 75.
  • Yoelsi Llorente Bermúdez, Óscar Luis Santana López, and Miguel Ernesto Armenteros Hernández have been incarcerated since May 16th, waiting trial for “attempting against the State and resisting authority.” After these four individuals were expelled by the police from a discothèque in the town of Santa Isabel de las Lajas, about a hundred people gathered in the town’s main park for a spontaneous protest. All were arrested. Of the hundred, forty were given summonses ranging from thirty to fifty Cuban pesos.
  • There are five prisoners in the Cienfuegos Province’s Ariza Prison.
  • Vladimir Morera Bacallao was transferred to Havana’s National Hospital after ending his hunger strike. He was arrested during the April 2015 municipal elections for putting a sign in front of his home that read “I vote for freedom!” Mr. Morera’s trial is still pending.

The Opposition Movement for a New Republic [MONR]

  • José Díaz Silva, the organization’s president, expressed to Jorge Bello Domínguez from the Cuban Network of Community Correspondents that the person who appears on the list as a political prisoner from his organization, Job Lemus Fonseca, no longer belongs to his group. Mr. Lemus had been ousted from the MONR, and the crime he is accused of is non-political.

Patriotic Union of Cuba [UNPACU] (José Daniel Ferrer, president)

There are fourteen discrepancies in the lists of prisoners associated with UNPACU:

  • Edilberto Arzuaga Alcalá, was sentenced to one year on February 15, 2015. He had been fined five thousand Cuban pesos for drawing graffiti in the town of Santa Cruz del Sur, Camagüey Province. Arzuaga refused to pay the fine. After protesting in front of Santa Cruz del Sur’s Poder Popular*, [People’s Power] Mr. Arzuaga was arrested.
  • Ariel Eugenio Arzuaga Peña, was sentenced to six years for “attempting against the State.” UNPACU did not exist at that time, so it would be ianccurate to classify him as a prisoner of this organization. At the time of Arzuaga’s imprisonment on March 17, 2011, UNPACU’s president José Daniel Ferrer was also incarcerated. Therefore, Mr. Ferrer does not have any personal knowledge of the charges brought against Mr. Arzuaga, although he does have testimonies from the group “Factors for Change,” and other sources. Mr. Arzuaga is currently held at the San Blas forced labor camp in Granma Province. San Blas is what the government calls a “plan confianza,” or “confidence-building strategy.”**
  • María del Carmen Calá Aguilera was arrested on April 24, 2015 in Holguín Province. Ms. Calá was accused of “attempting against the State” after insulting the doctor responsible for the death of her son, a non-political prisoner who died in jail from negligence.
  • Darián Ernesto Dufó Preval, Ricardo Pelier Frómeta and Yoelkis Rosabal Flores, were detained on May 15, 2014, in the town of Caimanera, Guantánamo Province, accused of “conspiracy to commit murder” after staging a sit-in demanding the release of Johane Arce. Some lists incorrectly state “they are still pending trial,” but these four men have already been tried and convicted for “incessant disorderly conduct.” Mr. Dufó was sentenced to two years of incarceration, Mr. Pelier to three, and Mr. Rasabal to four.
  • Yuselín Ferrera Espinosa was arrested on September 24, 2014, and sentenced to one year of incarceration for “causing injury to another person.” As Mr. Ferrera was enjoying a recording of the hip-hop duo Los Aldeanos, a member of the Communist Party ripped the cables off his sound system. There were no injuries, nor any medical documentation stating the contrary.
  • Mario Ronaide Figueroa Diéguez incorrectly appears on a list as having been arrested on December 2, 2012. According to UNPACU president José Daniel Ferrer, the exact day of Mr. Figueroa’s detention –along with ten other activists– was November 27, 2012. The political police told them that if they left UNPACU they would be released. Mr. Figueroa accepted the offer, yet was rearrested at the beginning of December of 2014. The rest of the group appeared on the list of 53 prisoners that was shown to the government of the United States.
  • Aracelio Ribeaux Noa was arrested in the town of Playa de Aguadores, Santiago de Cuba Province, accused of “physically assaulting prison guards.” According to the list, Mr. Ribeaux has been jailed since November 27, 2012. However, he had been freed on January 8, 2015 along with the rest of the group of 53 announced by the Cuban government. Mr. Ribeaux was an UNPACU member when guards of the Vigilance and Protection Corps caught him drawing graffiti. He refused to leave with them, but a few days later, a retired major from the Ministry of the Interior bayoneted Mr. Ribeaux, injuring his hand. He was taken to the hospital, where a few days later the political police sent him a message ordering Mr. Ribeaux not to press charges against the retired major, but he responded that he had already done so. He was then arrested in May. The authorities told Mr. Ribeaux that if he abandoned UNPACU and dropped the charges against the former Interior Ministry official, he would be freed. There are no official documents charging Mr. Ribeaux with any crime.
  • Emilio Serrano Rodríguez, incarcerated since February 7, 2015, is accused of “illegal commercial transactions” (he is not an “independent salesman” as the list says), and is still awaiting trial. An UNPACU member, Mr. Serrano had come to the defense of two Havana women who were licensed street merchants as the police were harassing them. These women, Sonia de la Caridad Mejías and Melkis Faure Echavarría, were at that time members of UNPACU.
  • Carlos Manuel Veranes Heredia, from the town of Caimanera, Guantánamo Province, was sentenced to one year incarceration on May 17, 2015. He is still being held at the provincial jail. Mr. Veranes was first informed he had no charges pending, yet one year later was arrested, given a summary trial with no defense lawyer, and convicted for the crime of “disrespect.”
  • Amado Verdecia Díaz, has been imprisoned since October 20, 2014. The police began harassing him in August 2013 by informing him that his driver’s license had expired. When Mr. Verdecia proved them wrong, the police told him that his problem was his poor driving skills. He was then arrested during a protest in the city of Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba Province, but was later released thanks to the pressure of UNPACU activists. Ten months later, Mr. Verdecia was arrested, tried, and sentenced to five years for “attempting against the State.” According to UNPACU’s José Daniel Ferrer, Mr. Verdecia’s crime was volunteering his car for the organization’s needs.
  • Santiago Cisneros Castellanos, a peasant and member of UNPACU, went to a store on July 21, 2014 to buy the bread ration allotted to him. When he arrived he was informed that all the bread was gone, and he responded that he was going to file an official complaint. His local delegate to the “Poder Popular” accused Mr. Cisneros of being a counter-revolutionary and told him that bread was meant only for revolutionaries. When he arrived to file his complaint at the offices of citizens’ services in the town of Cruce de los Baños, Santiago de Cuba Province, Mr. Cisneros was arrested and accused of the “attempted murder” of his local “Poder Popular” delegate, and for “possessing a firearm.” His trial took place on June 15,, 2015, and his sentencing is still pending. Mr. Cisneros does not appear on any list because those who have compiled them do not believe his crime is political in nature.
  • Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros has been incarcerated in Camagüey Province’s Cerámica Roja Prison since January 8, 2015, the same day as the group of 53 was released. Mr. Arostegui is accused of “attempting against the State” and “menacing.” Although he has a history of being treated for psychiatric disorders, Mr. Arostegui owns a horse and a cart he used to distribute UNPACU leaflets. The authorities organized an act of repudiation in front of his home, pelting it with excrement. As is the case with Santiago Cisneros Castellanos, Mr. Arostegui does not appear on any list.
  • Eglis Heredia Rodríguez was returned to prison to complete a sentence of eight years and six months, with the right to occasional supervised visits home. According to UNPACU president José Daniel Ferrer, Mr. Eredia’s sentence is not related to his role in the opposition, as is stated on a list. Mr. Eredia is not a political prisoner, but he did join UNPACU upon being released from jail. He was serving a sentence for burglary with forced entry.

Democratic Alliance of Eastern Cuba (Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, president)

  • Yeris Curbelo Aguilera was incarcerated for three years for “disrespect and disobedience.” He has been serving his sentence in Guantánamo Province’s Combinado Prison since February 19, 2015.

The Juan Wilfredo Soto García Human Rights Movement

  • René Rouco Machín, the organization’s president, appears on one list as serving a sentence for “disrespect” since August 4, 2014, and on another as serving four years for “attempting against the State.” Independent journalist Daniel González Oliva reports that Mr. Rouco is serving both sentences. On December 17, 2014, two officials from State Security paid him a visit at the Escalona Forced Labor Camp. Mr. Rouco refused to speak with them, still he was forced to meet with the officials, where they proceeded to beat him and break his arm. Mr. Rouco was subsequently accused of “attempting against the State,” and sentenced to four more years.

The José Martí Current

  • Rolando Joaquín Guerra Pérez is an opposition member and leader of The José Martí Current. According to one of the lists, while attempting to leave Cuba on a flimsy vessel, he was intercepted by the United States Coast Guard on November 6, 2012, and then repatriated. Mr. Guerra was awaiting trial for larceny, but escaped from the Canasí forced labor camp where he was being held. A few months ago, and without even informing his relatives, Mr. Guerra was tried, found guilty of several offenses, and sentenced to six years. He is currently housed in in the prison of the town of Melena del Sur, Mayabeque Province.

Other Cases

  • Juana Castillo Acosta, her husband Osvaldo Rodríguez Acosta, and her son Osvaldo Rodríguez Castillo were found guilty of “attempting against the State,” although some lists accuse them of “attempting to murder police.” Mrs. Castillo was originally given five years. She was mistakenly listed as serving her sentence under house arrest. Mrs. Castillo’s sentence was actually commuted to a forced labor facility she can commute to from home. Her husband, Osvaldo Rodríguez Acosta was sentenced to nine years, and her son Osvaldo Rodríguez Castillo to seven. Currently, the son is being allowed occasional supervised visits home.
  • Ricardo Hernández Ruiz belongs –according to one list– to an organization that no longer exists, Camagüey Unity. Virgilio Mantilla, who was the organization’s president, says he has no connection with the prisoner, who also does not belong to any opposition group. José Luis S. Varona, a dissident nicknamed “Pescao” (Fish), stated that Mr. Hernández is being held in a forced labor camp in Camagüey Province. According to Daysa Durán Galano of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement of Camagüey, Mr. Hernández tried to leave the country illegally through Guantánamo Province in order to reach the U.S. Naval Base. Five people who are now free accompanied him.
  • Yosvani Melchor Rodríguez is a young man who returned to Cuba illegally after having lived in the United States for one year. He was sentenced to twelve years of incarceration for human trafficking. Mr. Rodríguez’s codefendent, Jorge Luis Sánchez Carcassés from Santiago de Cuba, is now free. Mr. Melchor’s mother, Rosa María Rodriguez reported that her son is mentally retarded and is not a member of the Christian Liberation Movement. He is currently incarcerated in the Toledo 1 Prison, has been allowed to return home twice on supervised visits, and is waiting to be paroled.
  • Mauricio Noa Maceo has been incarcerated since August 6, 2010 for “‘ideological diversionism (divisionism),’ illegal economic activity, and accepting stolen property,” according to the information on one of the lists. Mr. Noa was tried on December 9, 2014 and was sentenced to three years imprisonment after having served more than four years. He is supposedly waiting for his appeals trial, but the deadline has passed. A prisoner only has a few days after a trial to appeal, and the bench has 45 days to respond.
  • Santiago Roberto Montes de Oca Rodríguez appears on several lists. Mr. Montes de Oca is simply classified as an “activist” without specifying to what organization he belongs.
  • Ángel Santiesteban Prats, a writer, does not appear on all the lists, although he is certain he submitted all his documentation, and that on February 26, 2013 –two days before reporting to prison– Amnesty International contacted him to confirm that he was indeed a prisoner of conscience. Currently there are those who doubt that Mr. Santiesteban is a political prisoner. He was sentenced to five years of incarceration for trespassing and causing bodily harm.

There are other persons who should appear on the lists since their legal status have yet to be clarified. For instance, take the case of Egberto Ángel Escobedo Morales. He was imprisoned on July 11, 1995 to a term of twenty years for “espionage, enemy propaganda, and stealing secret military counterintelligence documents.” Mr. Morales was released on December 29, 2010, after a 75-day hunger strike. First he was informed he had been pardoned, but then was told that due his improper behavior, he was just being paroled. He has yet to receive an official document signed off by a judge.

Translator’s Notes:
*Literally, “The People’s Power.” The local Communist Party government offices.
** A “reeducation” forced labor camp.

Translated by José Badué

Martha Beatriz Roque: “In Cuba there are political prisoners, but they don’t all appear on the lists” / 14ymedio

Martha Beatriz Roque. (14ymedio)
Martha Beatriz Roque. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 June 2015 — The opposition leader Martha Beatriz Roque witnessed the controversial incident that occurred last Thursday, 2 July, at the residence of the head of the United States Interests Section in Havana, during the celebrations of that country’s Independence Day. A group of government opponents rebuked Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino for his statement that there are no political prisoners in Cuba, which has been spread in spoken and filmed versions. Roque talks about these events in an interview with 14ymedio.

14ymedio. The Archbishop of Havana has just denied one version in which derogatory expressions about the independent press were attributed to Cardinal Jaime Ortega. You were there, how do you feel about what happened?

Roque. I think that it wasn’t the proper way to address a person who occupies the position in the Church that Cardenal Jaime Ortega occupies, nor was it the appropriate place to do it in the circumstances in which the incident occurred. There have been references to some videos and voice recordings, in one of which Jaime can be heard to say that the opponents “are blowing the trumpets of Miami.” continue reading

Although I was present at the home of the Chief if the Interests Section for the celebration of the United States’ independence day, I wasn’t a direct witness to the incident, but I talked with everyone moments later. Things got rough as they were speaking, to the point that Father Polcari had to intervene and ask them to keep their distance.

Those involved in the incident were Egberto Escobedo, who was the person who spoke; Jose Diaz Silva; Maria Cristina Labrada Varona, who is the wife of Escobedo; and the Lady in White from Matanzas, Leticia Herrería. Everything happened in the middle of the patio of the chief of the United States Interest Section’s residence in the atmosphere of the 4th of July celebration.

Escobedo told me personally that they had told the cardinal that the people of Cuba didn’t agree with him with regards to his behavior of denying the existence of political prisoners. Which I see as part of this injection of totalitarianism that the majority of us opponents have, of speaking like the system itself which systematically speaks in the name of the people, and there we go also speaking in the name of the people.

We never forget the execution of those three Cubans in 2003. That was an atrocity, but no one who commits this type of crime can be on a list of political prisoners, because they are not.

 14ymedio. The focus of the discussion is related to some statements by Archbishop Jaime Ortega where he denies the existence of political prisoners in Cuba. Do you share that opinion?

Roque. On two occasions the Cardinal has said that in Cuba there are no political prisoners. On a third occasion he said that on the lists that have been submitted to him there are no political prisoners. We did the work of analyzing the different lists prepared and we prepared a document with respect to that which will soon be published.

It does not seem necessary to specify the authors of such lists, because I do not want anyone to feel attacked with this. The truth is that on some of the lists there are a lot of people who are not only not political prisoners, but in some cases are not even prisoners right now.

14ymedio. You mean those who have carried out violent acts?

Roque. Personally I do not agree that those who have come to Cuba to perform violent acts, terrorist acts or murders, being considered political prisoners. I think you have to have mercy on them, especially those who are Catholics, because in many cases the regime has imposed excessive penalties and this is not permissible from the human point of view. I’m talking about those who have committed serious crimes, but not enough to warrant the conviction of spending the rest of their lives in prison.

We all know how Mr. Fidel Castro made decisions in this regard. We never forget the execution of these three Cubans who stole the boat Baraguá to leave Cuba in 2003. That was an atrocity, but no one who commits this type of crime can be on a list of political prisoners, because they are not.

14ymedio. But do you agree with the cardinal that in Cuba there are no political prisoners?

Roque. In Cuba there are political prisoners, but they do not all appear on those lists. These lists need to be cleaned up. For that we should talk with the heads of organizations and they can say who is who and if they still detained or not, because it also happens that if they are not updated, people are released from prison but remain on the lists. We must agree on the lists and seek the advice of lawyers in the field to explain some cases.

I maintain that it was disrespectful to rebuke Jaime Ortega and also a lack of courtesy to the hosts

14ymedio. To which cases are you referring?

Roque. For example, it is common that in Cuba a person is beaten by police and then charged with assault. I know a whole family where the political police broke down the door of the house, beat them, and they went to prison for up to nine years, serving time for the crime of assault. I’m talking about Osvaldo Rodriguez Acosta and his son Osvaldo Rodriguez Castillo, along with Juana Castillo, wife of Osvaldo, who was sentenced to five years of “correctional deprivation without internment.” However, in one of the dictates it appears as “attempted police murder” and to read that is very hard.

14ymedio. Someone who is limited to reading official documents in a case like this, which you pose as an example, could say that these people are not imprisoned for political reasons.

Roque. Exactly. It is saying what it is not and I think they are political prisoners, as I think others who do appear on some lists are not.

14ymedio. So perhaps the Cardinal could have “fallen into the temptation” of making a candid reading of official documents.

Roque. I do not know how he might have read it, but I maintain that it was disrespectful to rebuke him and also a lack of courtesy to the hosts. All I could do was to greet him and try to erase the impression, which may have been that all of us opponents have similar behaviors.

Another Sunday of Beatings for the Ladies in White /14ymedio

Antonio Rodiles after his arrest. (Ailer González)
Antonio Rodiles after his arrest. (Ailer González)

14ymedio, Havana, 6 July 2015 — The project director of the independent Estado of Sats project, Antonio Rodiles, underwent emergency surgery Sunday for a nasal bone fracture after being detained and beaten by security forces in Havana while participating in the weekly march of the Ladies in White. Opposition sources reported that about 80 members of that organization and human rights activists were arrested, sometimes violently.

The regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque reported through her Twitter account of the arrest of Rodiles on 42nd street and 3rd Avenue in Miramar, adding that he was, “Beaten until his nasal septum, forehead, finger and foot were all broken,” and taken to the hospital Calixto García for emergency surgery. He was then transferred to the prison known as Vivac, where he remained until 6.30 pm. continue reading

At least 20 people were arrested before reaching Santa Rita Church, including Rodiles, photographer Claudio Fuentes and dissident Jose Diaz Silva.

About 60 Ladies in White managed to reach the church and march down Fifth Avenue, before being arrested with their leader, Berta Soler. A reporter for this paper, Boris Gonzalez Arenas, was also arrested later, as were former political prisoners Egberto Escobedo and Angel Moya, according to activist Ailer González’s Twitter account.

Security agents also conducted operations in Aguada de Pasajeros in Cienfuegos, where the pastor restricted the Ladies in White from attending Sunday Mass.

 

More than 70 Ladies in White and Activists Arrested / Diario de Cuba

Ladies in White in front of Santa Rita Church on a previous Sunday (fhrcuba)
Ladies in White in front of Santa Rita Church on a previous Sunday (fhrcuba)

Diario de Cuba, Havana, 7 June 2015 – Over 40 Ladies in White and some 27 activists were arrested this Sunday, the ninth of repressive operations in Havana, according to dissidents.

Among those arrested were the musician Gorki Aguila, the director of Estado de Sats, Antonio Rodiles, photographer Claudio Fuentes and artist Tania Bruguera, who has already been released, according to the activist Ailer Gonzalez.

Other Ladies in White and opponents were arrested on leaving their homes, or forced to remain in them, according to the dissident Martha Beatriz Roque. continue reading

Gonzalez, artistic director of State of Sats, said she was able to talk with Antonio Rodiles when he was led into a State Security “paddy wagon,”, along with nine other men, and taken to the criminal prosecution center known as “Vivac.”

“He told me that his arrest had been violent and that they had put him in a chokehold,” she told Diario de Cuba.

Given the continued repression against the Ladies in White and the activists who support them when they attend Sunday Mass at Havana’s Santa Rita Church and undertake their walks down Quinta Avenue, supporters inside and outside the island carried out a campaign on Twitter using the hashtag #TodosMarchamos (We All March).

The initiative seeks to break the silence on the current repression in Cuba despite the regime’s negotiations with the United States and the European Union.

“This is a resistance,” said Ailer Gonzalez about the activities of the Ladies in White and dissidents every Sunday. “Many believe it is exhausting, but it seems to me that it is about the right to demonstrate, not only for the release of political prisoners,” she added.

“With this resistance every Sunday we are demanding the right to peaceful demonstration in Cuba, which is something that they (the government) are terrified of. Therefore they are engaged in this sustained repression, because the day they let us walk more than 10 blocks, they know how many people are going to join in,” she said.

Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and Citizen Participation / Cubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque

cdr-3cubanet square logoCubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque, Havana, 2 April 2015 — Whenever the topic of democracy and the Cuban regime comes up, the top leaders say that this is the most democratic country in the world. The latest version is that “‘democracy’ is subject to interpretation, and every country understands it in its own way.”

This also occurs with citizen participation, which assumes a receptivity on the part of government officials to listen to what the citizens want to communicate to them, to help improve the politics and management of public concerns. It means that all who want to get involved in matters that affect the people will be heard, and they will be allowed to contribute their points of view, concerns and possible solutions.

Even so, although the regime talks a good game, the totalitarian power looms over the practically null power of the people, which makes citizen involvement quite difficult in Cuba, thus preventing the growth of participatory democracy. continue reading

Today, in the modern democratic society, another way in which citizen participation takes place is through Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) which, in most cases, push for certain social and humanitarian causes.

The regime in general pays very little attention to the participation of the citizens, however through “opinion surveys,” which it conducts constantly, it knows perfectly well what they are thinking, but there is no interactivity in the process.

And the issue, according to the Constitution of the Republic in its Article 62, is that none of the recognized liberties of the citizens can be exercised against what is established in the Constitution and the laws of the land, nor against the existence and ends of the Socialist State, nor against the decision of the Cuban people to construct socialism and communism.

It is for this reason that to maintain a majority control of citizen participation, there are those inappropriately named NGOs – the ones which the regime wants to be recognized as members of the civil society, and which in the official context are called “mass organizations.” Notable among these are the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs).

This organization was founded by Fidel Castro on September 28, 1960, in a public ceremony in front of what is today the Museum of the Revolution, with the objective of carrying out acts of collective vigilance against foreign meddling and acts of destabilization committed against the Cuban political system.

The CDRs have a structure controlled by the State which, besides their social labors, performs the principal mission of monitoring and controlling the public and private lives of individuals and all the neighbors, on a very close level.

Automobile of the National Leadership of the CDR, with a State license plate (author photo)
Automobile of the National Leadership of the CDR, with a State license plate (author photo)

Despite their being considered an NGO, it can be publicly seen that the CDR supplies come from the government, even though they collect a monthly per-member fee of 25 cents in national currency for financing their operations. For example, the cars driven by the nomenklatura of the CDR—at all levels—bear the organization’s logo and a State license plate. They have a considerable number of buildings to maintain the provincial, municipal and zone structures. If only one of these organizational levels were eliminated, housing could be provided to some of the families in the country who have no roof over their heads.

One of the official arguments for considering the CDRs as promoters of citizen participation in the common good, is its intervention in elections. According to Article 68 of Law # 72 (the Electoral Law), the CDR includes the Candidacy Commission, along with other supposed NGOs, such as the Cuban Workers Center (which the CDR presides over), the Federation of Cuban Women, the National Association of Small Farmers, the Federation of Secondary Students, and the Federation of University Students.

The CDRs are in charge of keeping current the Registry Book of Addresses, which is the official roll in which all citizens must register when they move from one location to another. In most cases the official in charge of the registry is the president or the person responsible for neighborhood monitoring. It is difficult to comprehend that an official document that serves, among other things, to keep lists of voters, is in the hands of a non-governmental agency. Even less understandable is that the Law stipulates that those responsible for these registries must produce, within fifteen days following the publication of the call to vote in the Official Gazette of the Republic, a list of citizens who reside in their areas of purview who have, in their judgment, the right to vote, according to established law.

In addition, the CDRs are the font of primary information for the “verification” done of individuals by their workplaces, the police, State Security, etc. – which implies, by the same token, an obligation to the state, and an official linkage.

Among other duties they perform: blood donation, street sweeping on designated dates, collection of raw materials, participation in repudiation rallies against those who dissent from the regime, and the constant monitoring of the neighbors in their block. In some coastal areas they support the fight and vigilance against possible drug importations via the seas that surround the Island. They have quotas to achieve in the mobilizing campaigns to recruit participants for the parades and demonstrations in the Plazas of the various provinces.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see a television program of official accounting, from the Interior Ministry, titled, “On the Trail of….,” in which they publicly show that their main source of information are the CDRs.

Site of the National Headquarters of the CDR (author photo)
Site of the National Headquarters of the CDR (author photo)

It is possible that they also consider it citizen participation to nominate those persons, during neighborhood meetings, who should be sold television sets or be assigned telephones. They have been so involved in State matters that, even during the Mariel Boatlift, they were ordered to give away the houses that were left vacant.

The CDRs violate human rights, because they have been involved in “acts of repudiation,” which have included abuse, intimidation, and, on occasion, physical mistreatment, against those who have been deemed “counterrevolutionaries,” or enemies of the Revolution. Still today, in the minds of two of the generations that have lived through the dictatorship, memories persist of the events of Mariel, in which the CDRs actively participated, harassing entire families, physically and verbally mistreating them, simply because they wanted to emigrate.

Although throughout the entire existence of this organization, numerous reasons can be identified which support the contention that the CDR is indeed an “official” entity, one would have to particularly name the fact that its National Coordinators have been members of the Council of State in the eight legislatures conducted to date: Jorge Lezcano Pérez, Armando Acosta Cordero, Sixto Batista Santana, Juan Contino Aslán, and Juan José Rabilero Fonseca. They were all representing this “NGO” until 2013. By the same token they were all at some point members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.

This is the citizen participation of which the Castro dictatorship will boast, through its official spokespersons, at the Seventh Summit of the Americas.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

“No matter where I live, I will keep working for the freedom of Cuba” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Marta Beatriz Roque, Cabello Ángel Moya, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, Diosdado González Marrero and Eduardo Díaz Fleitas
Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, Ángel Moya, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, Diosdado González Marrero and Eduardo Díaz Fleitas

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 March 2015 — Twelve years after the Black Spring, 14ymedio chats with some of the former political prisoners currently living on the Island. Two questions have been posed to those activists condemned in March 2003: one about their decision to stay in Cuba, and the other about how they see the country today.

Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello

I left prison in late 2004, paroled by the regime for reasons of health. They never offered me the chance to go abroad, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me. My closest family, and most distant as well, live abroad, but I never had plans to abandon the Island. I am a Spanish citizen because my family did the paperwork, I visited the embassy of that country the day they told me to fill out the forms and then got a passport, about four years ago.
continue reading

This is no longer the same country it was in the spring of 2003. The government has been forced to return certain rights to the citizens, regardless of the fact that we can’t make use of them. At that time, for example, a Cuban was not permitted to say in the hotels. Now it’s not prohibited, but the economy doesn’t allow the ordinary citizen to exercise that right. Who, other than “papá’s kids” [the Castro offspring] has the money to pay for a room? Another thing is the ability to travel abroad. Those of us who are on parole are not allowed to travel, or we know that if we do it we will not be allowed to return.

The government has been forced to return certain rights to the citizens, regardless of the fact that we can’t make use of them”

I remember Cardinal Ortega, in a statement published by the newspaper Granma, said that all of us would be set free, but they only freed those who chose to go into exile. That is a way of punishing us for not accepting deportation, it is a whim of the commander in chief and a mockery of Spain and of the Church. On 31 October last year we made a formal demand for a document of freedom, but we never got an answer. We only have an identity card.

Angel Moya

I got out of prison because of the efforts made by the Government of Spain and the Catholic Church with the Government of Cuba, but especially thanks to the internal pressures, which came from the actions of the Ladies in White, the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and Guillermo Fariña’s hunger strike. No one ever pressured me to leave Cuba. The Cardinal called me and proposed it and I said no. My decision was to stay and continue to fight for the freedom of Cuba and I’ve never regretted that. It was very important that I had the support of my wife, Berta Soler, who has always agreed with our staying.

My decision was to stay and continue to fight for the freedom of Cuba and I’ve never regretted that

The country has not evolved at all in terms of human rights. Just look at the lists of arbitrary detentions issued monthly by the Human Rights Committee and Hablemos Press. The methods used by the State Security include beatings and abuses of all kinds. The repression has intensified to prevent the population from joining the activism. It is true that they have not been making the same mistake of the Black Spring, because that was a failure that cost the government dearly, but they continue to imprison people for political reasons and still refuse to ratify the international covenants on human rights.

Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique

I left prison in November 2010. Just before, Cardinal Ortega called me and told me he was preparing for the prisoners of our cause to leave the country. I told him I wasn’t interested. It was a decision I’ve thought about a lot since that time, but I wouldn’t take it back. If I wanted to leave Cuba now it would have to be forever, but I’m not going to accept this blackmail. On leaving prison they gave us a little piece of paper to get an ID card, but I never managed to get anything legal. My family shares this decision and when your family supports you, the decision is more firm.

If I wanted to leave Cuba now it would have to be forever

The opposition still hasn’t been able to consolidate itself. The constant emigration of people with experience does a lot of damage to us, these exits don’t allow us to consolidate. Of course the regime was forced to take some actions, but it was done out of pure pragmatism. They have no interest in changing. In this similar situation of restoring relations with the United States I can’t see clearly what their real interests are. Maduro from Venezuela is an influence in this, because he isn’t happy to see there is a possibility of coming to an arrangement with Cuba.

Diosdado González Marrero

Right now, almost four years after thye released us, I continue to see it as a question of principles to have made the decision not to give in to the Government’s pressure and accept exile as a condition for leaving prison. I saw it then and I continue to see it the same way now. In about a week I’m going to join my family abroad. I am leaving the Island, but I will stay in Cuba. I tried to leave like a normal visit, but it’s not allowed. My wife and I even went to the cardinal to intercede, but it wasn’t possible to resolve our request. I am leaving for two reasons: my desire to reunite with my children and grandchildren, and because we Cubans have to live in democracy. I have done my best for the unity of the opposition, but it’s very difficult, there are too many individual interests in each organization. No matter where I live, I will continue working for the freedom of Cuba.

I am leaving the Island, but I will stay in Cuba

Having spent eight years in those places that don’t even deserve to be called prisons, and coming back out to the street, I saw that everything was worse. After you get acclimated again, you can get used to anything. Now we see changes. There are things that Cubans have the right to, that they couldn’t do before. Get a cellphone, connect to the Internet, travel, those were goals that seemed impossible, likewise with the development of private businesses or land leasing, but politically, nothing. After Fidel Castro got sick and handed over power to his brother, they started to eliminate prohibitions and now, with the conversations between the Cuban regime and the American government, things will get better still, especially with the flow of tourists from the United States.

Eduardo Diaz Fleitas

They released me just a few days before I served eight years in prison. Cardinal Jaime Ortega called me to suggest that I accept leaving for Spain in order to be released. I told him I wasn’t interested in leaving Cuba. Having stayed on the Island has been very important because my commitment is to fight for the changes we need. I never regret having stayed here, and I don’t think I will leave under any circumstances.

Having stayed on the Island has been very important because my commitment is to fight for the changes we need

The biggest change the country has suffered in the last 12 years that I see is the greater deterioration. There is no respect for human dignity nor any kind of improvement in any order of life. Now we need the regime to decide to accept real changes and seek peace for the progress of the country.

“I do not know if it makes much sense to try to legalize the Hispano-Cuban Foundation on the Island” / 14ymedio, Marta Beatriz Roque

Martha Beatriz Roque, the new president of the Cuban Hispano Foundation. (14ymedio)
Martha Beatriz Roque, the new president of the Hispano-Cuban Foundation. (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, 18 July 2013 — The Cuban economist Martha Beatriz Roque has just been named president of the Hispano-Cuban Foundation (FHC). The institution has tried to “promote the presence and relevance of the FHC in the island.” 14ymedio was able to speak with the prominent dissident to get her impressions about the new appointment and her immediate plans.

QUESTION: How do you feel to have been chosen for this position?

ANSWER: It is a tremendous responsibility, because when the board members of the FHC decided to choose me for this position they based it on some expectations that I must now meet. A challenge of this nature, one always takes it as a challenge, with a bit of fear too, because I know it will not be easy.

Q. What are the first steps that you will take starting now?

A. First I must organize the Cuban side. The patronage in Madrid is very well defined, but here there are some steps that need to be taken in that regard. The first is to legalize the situation at the Embassy of Spain in Cuba and then there will be many other steps and concrete actions. But contrary to how Raul Castro thinks things must be done in Cuba, when he advised doing everything slowly and gradually, we will try to make our plans a reality as quickly and swiftly as possible.

Q. Do you intend to try to legally register this entity in the Register of Associations of Cuba?

A. In Spain this foundation is legalized, it is based in Madrid and is well known in the European Union. Legalize it in Cuba? …? I don’t know if it makes much sense even to try.

Q. Will you continue as usual with his work as head of the Community Communicators Network and the Institute of Independent Economists?

A. Yes, of course, one has nothing to do with the others. All tasks that come starting now with this new responsibility will be in addition to what we do every day. I hope I have the time and energy.