UNPACU Reaches 5th Anniversary Amid Achievements And Criticisms / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 24 August 2016 – Five years can be a long time in Cuba, when we’re talking about an opposition organization. In the complex kaleidoscope of dissident groups and parties that make up civil society on the island, many are active for only a few months or languish amid repression and illegality. The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) will reach its fifth anniversary on Wednesday with several of its initial objectives completed and others still in progress.

While the Cuban government classifies all opponents as “enemies” of the nation and “hirelings of the Empire,” UNPACU members have preferred to describe themselves in their own words. They consider themselves “a citizens’ organization and a pro-democracy and progressive social movement” interested in “freedom, sovereignty and prosperity.” Their epicenter is the city of Santiago de Cuba and other areas in Eastern Cuba, although they also have a presence in Havana. continue reading

Organized around their leader and most visible head, Jose Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU was born in 2011 after the process of the release of the last prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring, among whom was Ferrer. Ferrer’s prior experience was in the ranks of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), which was vital for his own political development, according to what he has said in several interviews.

Over the years, several faces have stood out in UNPACU’s ranks, such as the young Carlos Amel Oliva, who recently led a hunger strike in protest of the arbitrary arrests and confiscations of personal belongings. However, UNPACU has also suffered, like the rest of the country, the constant exodus of its members through the refugee program offered by the United States Embassy and other paths of emigration.

Among those who have decided to stay on the island, is Lisandra Robert, who never imagined she would join an opposition organization. Her future was to be a teacher, standing in front of a classroom and reviewing mathematical formulas and theories. However, her studies at Frank Pais Garcia University of Teaching Sciences ended all of a sudden when she refused to serve as an undercover agent for State Security. The “mission” they demanded of her was to report on the activities of several activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, among them two of her family members.

Today, Robert is a member of UNPACU, and although she started with the group as an independent journalist, with the passing of time she has addressed the issue of political prisoners. “At first it was hard, because the neighbors participated in the acts of repudiation, they wouldn’t look at us or speak to us.” Something has changed because “now they are the ones most supportive of us.”

Among the characteristics that distinguish the work of UNPACU is the use of new technologies. Through copies on CDs, USB memory sticks or external hard discs, Cubans have seen the acts of repudiation from the point of view of the opponents who have been victims of them, and they have even used tools such as Twitter, which they teach in their Santiago headquarters.

“This is a way to bring more people to all the work we do and they receive it with love and great appreciation, because we also include news that doesn’t appear in the national media,” says Robert.

Zaqueo Báez’s face became known during the mass Pope Francis offered in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution last September. Along with other colleagues, the current UNPACU coordinator in Havana approached the Bishop of Rome and demanded the release of the political prisoners. This Tuesday he told 14ymedio that he felt “very proud” of belonging to the movement dedicating “great efforts” to “social work undertaken directly with people to involve those most in need.”

Jose Daniel Ferrer, on a visit to Miami, said he was satisfied by what has been achieved and feels that “in its first year UNPACU was already the opposition organization with the most activists in Cuba.” The figure of 3,000 members stated publicly has been a center of controversy, such as that sustained between Ferrer and Edmundo Garcia, a Cuban journalist living in Florida. On this occasion, Garcia asked sarcastically, “How many people (from UNPACU) can you introduce me to?”

Garcia also questioned the organization’s source of funding and said the United States government was the main source, through the National Endowment for Democracy. Ferrer openly acknowledged that part of the funding comes from the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) and what he describes as “generous contributions from Cuban exiles.”

Former political prisoner Felix Navarro belonged to UNPACU, but said he had left the group “without grievance, without separation.” He considers it “the most representative organization in opposition to Castro within the Cuban nation.” In addition, “it is in the street and has created a very positive mechanism from the point of view of the information to immediately find out what is happening every minute.”

For José Daniel Ferrer one of the biggest challenges is to achieve “a capable and committed leadership” because many activists “scattered on the island don’t do better activism because of not having good leadership.” The limitation on resources such as “equipment, disks, printers and the money it takes to bring more people into the work of spreading information” also hinders the action of training, he adds.

The dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua considers UNPACU to be “one of the most active organizations, especially in non-violent protests in the streets, bringing light and giving relief to the demands of ordinary people.” A result of this activism is that in April of this year the number of political prisoners belonging to the organization rose to 40 people.

When Jose Daniel Ferrer was asked if UNPACU can remain active without him in the personal leadership position that has characterized Cuban political movements, he responds without hesitation: “It has been demonstrated very clearly in my absence.”

“It Has Sparked Harsh Repression” / 14ymedio

A few months ago police stormed a children’s party being hosted by UNPACU. (Twitter)
A few months ago police stormed a children’s party being hosted by UNPACU. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 21 July 2106 — The harassment against the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) intensifies. Several activists of the opposition organization have denounced the up to five raids that took place in the early morning hours this Thursday.

Ovidio Martin Castellanos, a member of UNPACU’s Coordination Council in Santiago de Cuba, confirmed to 14ymedio that antiriot troops entered the home of Jose Maria Heredia, on 8th Street in the Mariano de la Torre neighborhood. “They mixed antiriot troops with the political police. At the front was a Major from counterintelligence who calls himself Bruno. Once inside the house, they seized and stole his possessions. continue reading

Carlos Amel Oliva, on hunger strike since last July 13 “to protest the arbitrary confiscations” experienced similar interventions to those of last night, also explained in detail the raid on the house where the Heredia cell is organized and where the father of the youth leader Carlose Oliva lives.

“The operation was led by three State Security officers known as Charles, Bruno and Julio Fonseca. The troops were assault troops, officers fully clothed in bullet-proof vests with long shotguns. They entered my house, tearing down the first door, and taking a video camera and some documents. They also went into the house of some neighbors who have shown a lot of solidarity with me in previous days and took a laptop and hard disk from them,” he said.

The operation was even extended to a kindergarten managed by UNPACU that serves 20 children, children of sympathizers of the movement. There they confiscated a laptop and “frightened the coordinator who cares for the children,” according to the activists, who were relieved that the raid occurred at dawn and that there were no children in the house.

“It has sparked a harsh repression,” says Ovidio Martin, who adds that at Yasmani Magaña’s house, in Palmarito de Cauto, various slogans were painted on the walls, including “Viva Fidel.” According to the opponent, eleven people were detained in this operation, driven approximately 10 miles away and beaten before being released far from town.

“This wave of repression comes because the regime knows the situation that is looming. They are preparing the population for a new Special Period, because people don’t want to live through that again. To us, we are determined to take to the streets and we have attracted their sympathy, and they have intensified harassment because they are afraid that people are joining and becoming activists,” he says.

Carlos Amel has taken advantage of the new wave of attacks against the organization he belongs to, to detail the reasons for his hunger strike. Despite being determined not to eat until they return his belongings, he clarifies the meaning of his words. “It is not [for] a laptop and a computer, they are things that are not worth the life of any human being, but because they arrest us when we go out. Or come into our homes and take whatever they want. This is a constant violation of our rights,” he denounces.

Oliva has shown his appreciation for the support he has received from his organization and other opposition groups such as Somos+ (We Are More) and FANTU (Anti-Totalitarian Forum), and in real solidarity with Guillermo ‘Coco’ Fariñas, on hunger strike as of this Wednesday.

“I am a little weak physically, but firm in my position,” says Oliva. “I have received many calls from abroad, from friends, from media… it is very comforting, for someone on a hunger strike this is the only source of strength.”

More UNPACU Activists on Hunger Strike / 14ymedio

The UNPACU) youth leader, Amel Carlos Oliva. (Center for Coexistence Studies)
The UNPACU) youth leader, Carlos Amel Oliva. (Center for Coexistence Studies)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 July 2016 — The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) reports at least twenty have been arrested in recent hours, after five activists, on Monday, joined the hunger strike started six days ago by the organization’s youth leader, Carlos Amel Oliva, to demand the return of two laptops, a cellphone and a removable hard disc confiscated by the police.

“The repression has been tough. Some 16 activists were arrested in Santiago de Cuba when they went to visit Oliva. The arrests were violent,” one of the opposition group’s coordinators, Ovidio Martin Castellanos, told 14ymedio. In addition to those arrested in the provincial capital, nine other people were intercepted in other areas of eastern Cuba, like Palmarito de Cauto, in the municipality of Mella. continue reading

Katherine Mojena Hernandez, wife of the youth leader and UNPACU member, said that Oliva is physically weakened, “but with the same fortitude with which he started the strike.” She added that the one who calls himself “Official Bruno” personally told Carlos Amel that “you are going to die of hunger” if he waits for his belongings to be returned.

Lazarus Curvelo Mejia, one of the Cubans who has been on hunger strike for four days, said he was willing to support the demand of Carlos Amel until the final consequences.

Among the five activists who have supported Oliva are two women, Zulma Lopez and Joanne Quesada.

The activist Yasmany Magaña from the province of Santiago de Cuba also joined.

UNPACU has denounced the increase in repressive actions against its organization, which it attributes to its growing membership throughout the island.

The group of hunger strikes, in addition to Oliva, includes Lazaro Curbelo Mejias, who has been on strike since the 15th of this month, Maikel Mediaceja Ramos, Zulma López Saldaña, Yoanna Quesada Masabeaux and Yasmani Magañana Díaz who have spent between 24 and 48 hours without eating.

Dozens of UNPACU Activists Detained Attending a Funeral / 14ymedio

Patriotic Union of Cuba activists carry out marches in spite of frequent arrests (UNPACU)
Patriotic Union of Cuba activists carry out marches in spite of frequent arrests (UNPACU)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana – Dozens of activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in Santiago de Cuba were arrested this Tuesday and on Wednesday morning when they tried to go to the funeral of one of their members. The detentions coincided with the burial of Maximilliano Sanchez Pereda, 72 years of age, who died Tuesday morning at the Juan Ambrosio Grillo Hospital.

“They set up several police cordons in order to prevent brothers from arriving to show their sympathy to the family of the deceased,” said opponent Ovidio Martin to 14ymedio via telephone. The visitation was held on Tuesday night at Sanchez’s house, “because that was his will,” he added. continue reading

Martin explained that during the day in the area of Palma Soriano “they arrested about 30 activists” and “more than 20 in the area of Santiago de Cuba.” They were all set free that same night, and the police warned them that they could not attend the funeral.

At dawn on Wednesday, near Palmarito de Cauto, another 35 members of the organization were arrested and “kept in an enclosed truck for hours in sub-human conditions, completely closed and without a bathroom,” said Martin. The same source says that on Wednesday afternoon, “they were all set free” although “they suffered arbitrary and in some cases violent arrests.”

The burial of the deceased took place Wednesday morning, and the activist says that at the moment of the burial there arrived at the cemetery “a truck full of paramilitary forces dressed as civilians pretending that they were community services.”

Martin thinks that the purpose was to prevent a cross from being left at the grave on behalf of the family members and activists on which appeared the deceased’s day of birth, the burial date, and the acronym UNPACU. “Right there a dispute broke out because the paramilitary forces pulled the cross from the grave saying that the abbreviation could not go there.”

Eventually the opponents returned “to put the cross in place.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Wave Of Arrests Against Activists Seeking To Prevent A Youth Congress / 14ymedio

Amel Carlos Oliva, youth leader for UNPACU. (Somos +)
Amel Carlos Oliva, youth leader for UNPACU. (Somos +)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 July 2016 – This Sunday several independent organizations are holding the first Cuban Youth Congress in the city of Santiago de Cuba, under heavy police pressure and after dozens of arrests. Among those arrested is the activist from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) Amel Carlos Oliva, who was arrested last Thursday, according to sources from UNPACU.

Oliva’s family and friends told 14ymedio that they lost telephone contact with the dissident hours after he met in Havana with Eliecer Avila, president of the Movement Somos+ (We Are More), an organization also participating in the youth event. continue reading

Oliva returned from Washington the same day he was detained and, according to the leader of the UNPACU, Jose Daniel Ferrer, was “kidnapped by the repressive forces” as he traveled from the Cuban capital to the east.

Since Saturday some members of both organizations were also victims of arbitrary detention, while others were subject to strong police operations around their homes. However, a few managed to reach the Santiago headquarters of UNPACU, where the Congress is now taking place.

Joanna Columbié, a member of Somos+, was arrested on the outskirts of the meeting. She managed to report her arrest by telephone, seconds before being put in the police car. According to reports from the organizations involved in the Congress, more than a hundred activists have been arrested.

The wave of arrests on Sunday is the continuation of the dozens of arrests from the day before, when several members of UNPACU were violently arrested while protesting to demand the immediate release of Carlos Amel Oliva.

Guillermo Fariñas’ Organization Withdraws from MUAD / 14ymedio

The Cuban regime opponent Guillermo Farinas. (Laura Maria Parra de la Cruz)
The Cuban regime opponent Guillermo Farinas. (Laura Maria Parra de la Cruz)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 July 2016 — In the same week, the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD) has lost two of its most representative organizations. On Tuesday, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) withdrew from the organization of opponents, and Thursday the United Anti-totalitarian Front (FANTU), led by Guillermo Fariñas, made public its departure.

In a note circulated by email within the island, the FANTU National Council said that MAUD “is permeated by a majority of organizations and personalities that are not representative of the entire non-violent opposition.” Something that, according to the group, distances them from those who daily confront “in the streets, the Castro’s totalitarian regime.” continue reading

The statement, signed by eight activists among whom is Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, said that FANTU’s members believe that the opponents who belong to the United Roundtable reject the carrying out of “actions in the public rights-of-ways” and “reject the methodology” of the organizations that hold them.

Unlike UNPACU’s more diplomatic declaration of withdrawal from MUAD, the FANTU note offers very harsh criticisms of the entities that make up MUAD. In their opinion, they are “very popular in the media, but with few members in their ranks,” at times only one person, “and act only towards the exterior of Cuba.”

Manuel Cuesta Morua, one of the main drivers of the MUAD initiative, told 14ymedio that MUAD is preparing “a well-thought out” response to these criticisms.

For its part, FANTU has reproached MUAD for using “methods to buy and get commitment as well as votes from opponents, which consist of facilitating travel abroad”; a way that seeks to “defend the postures and opinions of certain personalities within this rebellious entity.”

The document notes that “the struggle must be carried out within Cuba and not be [going] constantly from airport to airport [since] the real scenario for the democratization our country is within the island itself.”

Cuesta Morua recognizes that the withdrawal of these organizations “is a blow” for the MUAD project, because both groups “have worked hard and are very prestigious within Cuba.” However, he dismissed the seriousness of the rupture, which he described a “a growth crisis” that “will not end” the umbrella organization.

Cuesta Morua, who is the leader of the Progressive Arc, said that there is still “a lack of maturity in the coexistence between the same proposal from different viewpoints, distinct concrete strategies of change, of how to push democratic change.” He notes that “the doors remain open from FANTU and UNPACU,” if in the future they want to return” to the organization.

Fariñas is setting his sights on the Second National Cuban Meeting, an event that will take place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, between this August 12th to 14th. That is “another attempt at unity in which we are involved,” the opponent emphasized to this newspaper.

UNPACU Activists Denounce Raid On Their Homes / 14ymedio

UNPACU Activists marching in protest. “We all march, for the release of political prisoners, for fair wages, for freedom for the Cuban people, for democracy, for decent housing, for respect for human rights. (UNPACU Archive)
UNPACU Activists marching in protest. “We all march, for the release of political prisoners, for fair wages, for freedom for the Cuban people, for democracy, for decent housing, for respect for human rights. (UNPACU Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 May 2016 – This week has been one of surprises for several activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who denounce that they have been victims of a raid on their homes and the confiscation of their belongings. The dissidents detailed that the political police raided three houses in the city of Santiago de Cuba on Saturday morning and a fourth in Havana on Wednesday.

Ermito Morán Sánchez, an UNPACU activist, confirmed to14ymedio that they “raided the homes of Carlos Oliva Torres, Yusmila Reyna and Karel Reyes where they seized printed materials, a camera, and other items in response to our activities to disseminate the reality of this country among the people.” continue reading

In a telephone conversation with 14ymedio, Yusmila Reyna said that at six in the morning, while her family was sleeping, there was a “knock on the door.” It was the police with “a search warrant for subversive activities.” An officer showed her a paper, but did not allow her to read it carefully or to take it in her hands. The incident occurred on 12th Street in the Mariana de la Torre neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba.

Reyna managed to read that the order specified that they came to “seize methods of communication, money, and any other means of counterrevolution.” A total of ten uniformed officers plus two in plain clothes, who supposedly came to witness the search (Cuban law requires two civilians to witness such a search), participated in the operation.

The raid lasted over an hour and ultimately they seized working notes, two laptops, an electronic tablet, two hard drives, a printer, a camera, “and even receipts for items acquired abroad,” according to Reyna.

The activist circulated a text where she says that “acts like these do not prevent us from continuing our work in defense of human rights and accelerating the process of democratization of our island.”

During the search of her house they also seized a number of issues of the magazine Coexistence, documents relating to the initiative Otro 18 (Another 2018)—in support of free multiparty elections—and documents relating to the Roundtable for United Democratic Action (MUAD).

“They took two staplers and the boxes of staples, and a hole-punch. They didn’t leave any document I was working on and warned me that any demand [for the return of the seized items] would have go to the ‘Confrontation Offices’ but that they were not going to return anything.”

Meanwhile the dissident Arcelio Rafael “Chely” Molina Leyva said that Wednesday morning the police arrived to search his home, which serves as the UNPACU headquarters in Havana.

“They came with several gentlemen in plainclothes and after a thorough search took three laptops, a battery to recharge cell phones, two mobile phones, office supplies, news from international agencies, printed civic material and digital backups,” Chely enumerated.

This is the fourth search of this nature by the political police on UNPACU’s Havana headquarters. As a part of the operation they arrested Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, who despite having a temporary residence permit for Havana was taken to the third station of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) in Santiago de Cuba, where he is still under arrest.

Jose Daniel Ferrer Gets a Passport / 14ymedio

José Daniel Ferrer with his passport with a visa for the US. (14ymedio)
José Daniel Ferrer with his passport with a visa for the US. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 18 May 2016 – Government opponent José Daniel Ferrer received his new passport on Tuesday, and will be able to travel outside the country for the first time. The former prisoner of the Black Spring has permission to leave the country only once, according to information from Cuban authorities. During his trip he plans to visit the United States and several European countries, according to what he told this newspaper.

The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) will fly to Florida on Wednesday, where his plans to visit his mother and brother, Luis Enrique Ferrer, also a former political prisoner. “I want to see many good Cubans, especially those who in one way or another support the cause of the democratization of Cuba. I want to hug them,” he said.

Ferrer also plans to go to the Swiss city of Geneva, to appear before the United Nations Human Rights Council, and then he will visit Spain. “If I have the time I want to go to Poland, to the Gdansk shipyards, where the great demonstrations of the Solidarity Union took place,” he told 14ymedio.

Earlier this year, Ferrer received, along with other former political prisoners, the Homo Homini Prize awarded each year by the Czech NGO People in Need, for his contribution “in an outstanding way to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the non-violent resolution of political conflicts.” None of the award recipients were able to attend to the award ceremony because of travel restrictions imposed on them by the Cuban government.

Patriotic Union Of Cuba Launches A Political Program / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

UNPACU leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer, believes that a new document integrates the entire opposition. (EFE)
UNPACU leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer, believes that a new document integrates the entire opposition. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 5 May 2016 — Since early this month, members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) have begun to disseminate the document Minimum Program and Projections, which outlines guidelines for the actions of the opposition organization, forms of struggle, and a proposal for the country ‘s future.

With the publication of this text, which summarizes the experience of the nation’s largest group of activists, UNPACU is demonstrates maturity and responds to criticisms about the Cuban opposition’s lack of a platform or agenda.

In nine pages, the program underlines the commitment of the opposition to use peaceful means to reach its goals. It also clarifies that the proposals contained are addressed to those living in the country and in the diaspora and proclaims the need for “a free, democratic, just, fraternal and prosperous Cuba.” continue reading

This inclusiveness is appreciated in a nation that for decades no longer exists only within the island, and where the phenomenon of emigration is growing in numbers rather than diminishing in recent months.

Jose Daniel Ferrer, national coordinator for UNPACU, is optimistic that the program’s reach to date. Speaking to 14ymedio he noted, however, that “the document is not final and is subject to changes or corrections.”

For this former prisoner of the Black Spring, the platform is a “more complete tool” in the work of the organization and has been received “very well,” mainly in Santiago de Cuba. Right now, he says, it is “being distributed throughout the province, we will continue to print it and send it to the rest of the country.”

The text has not been the result of improvisation or a race against time to publish a program. Several activists consulted confirmed that the text originated in March of 2013, when the UNPACU instructed the lawyer Rene Gomez Manzano, its chief legal adviser, to write the first draft.

That initial text was worked on by regime opponent Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz and Ferrer himself, who used as sources for the final wording of the document other texts, including: UNPACU, For The Cuba Of Your Dreams and We Are UNPACU. Only after the recent close of the 7th Congress of the Communist Party, with its disappointing results, did the organization publish its program.

Ferrer explained that the dissemination of the text was preceded by “many days of work and consensus in meetings occurring in several provinces of the country.” Technology was an ally in this effort, as they were also able to share opinions through “emails, Facebook chat and Twitter direct messages,” he says.

The organization describes itself in the pages Minimum Program and Projections as “a pluralistic and ecumenical effort of a union of activists and former organizations.” Its managers collected and summarizes in their ideology components ideology “of Christian belief and the liberal and social democratic doctrines.”

Their main proposal for the country is summarized in “the establishment of a democratic order that combines a social market economy, political pluralism and makes possible greater equity and solidarity between the individuals and groups that make up our society.”

Copies of the program will be delivered to the “different levels of the so-called People’s Power, and, why not, the oppressor Party,” said Ferrer, who is quick to note that the “the main audience is the millions of Cubans tired of living without rights, without freedom and in complete misery. ”

In its project for the economy, the program lists the current situation as “an authoritarian capitalism, combining the worst of a savage market and a state centralism,” and details the main problems affecting items such as wages, food, housing, transport, industry and agriculture, among others.

As a counterpart, UNPAC advocates a social market economy, where “both the State and the markets, open to citizen control and advocacy, serve as mechanisms to generate personal and public prosperity.” It is also committed to “the fertile combination of all forms of property and production: small, medium or large, national, foreign or mixed,” but rejects the existence of state or private monopolies.

The group claims the right of Cubans living abroad to invest and own property in the country and proposes the creation of “genuine agrarian reform that recognizes the full rights of those who work the land.” Detailing the need to respect the properties acquired after 1959, especially those used as living quarters, it intends to seek “compensation formulas” and the right to put forward impartial claims for confiscated property.

In the socio-political approach, the program calls for a new constitution and a new electoral law “to ensure free, fair and competitive elections,” and proposes the establishment of freedom of expression and association and the right to strike and unionize.

The document calls for respect for all religious beliefs and fraternal organizations, and the promotion of Internet access, freedom in art, academic freedom in teaching, university autonomy, the repeal of all laws in force today that violate human rights and the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners.

For those who see this emergence of this platform as a possible cause of friction between dissident forces, Ferrer says that, on the contrary, the new text “enriches and strengthens the struggle for the democratization of Cuba.” A clarification that is worth taking into account is that the Democratic Unity Roundtable a coalition of opposition organizations to which UNPACU belongs, is about to publish its own program.

Ferrer does not believe in haste or improvisation, but stresses that UNPACU members do not “like to leave for tomorrow what you can do today.”

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.

More than 200 Activists Arrested Throughout the Island / 14ymedio

Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU). (14ymedio)
Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU). (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 March 2016 — The arrests of 209 activists is the final result this Saturday, a day on which several opposition groups demanded the release of political prisoners. The majority of those arrested are members of Unión Patriótica de Cuba (Cuban Patriotic Union, UNPACU), according to a statement to 14yMedio by its general coordinator, José Daniel Ferrer.

The bulk of the arrests took place in the eastern provinces and in the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud (the Island of Youth, formerly the Island of Pines) when the activists demanded publicly “the release of political prisoners, respect for human rights and the end of repression against the Ladies in White,” stated the activist formerly imprisoned following Cuba’s Black Spring. continue reading

Other activists were prevented from leaving their homes during police operations, including Zaqueo Báez, who was arrested on two occasions this past week. A similar situation was denounced by Arcelio Rafael Molina, a member of UNPACU, who has been forbidden to leave his home in the municipality of Playa, in Havana, which is also the headquarters for the western branch of the organization.

The group denounced as well that, this morning, a group of 15 of its members in Havana’s Parque Central (Central Park) was “surrounded by political police agents who threatened them with arrest if they created any demonstration.”

In the eastern part of the country, the bulk of arrests are concentrated in Santiago de Cuba with 147 detained activists, plus 28 in Guantanamo, 16 in Las Tunas and 6 in Holguín.

UNPACU is the largest opposition organization in the country, and it has shown public support for the visit of Barack Obama who will arrive on the island this Sunday. In its communiqués UNPACU has also warned about a possible increase in repression during the president’s stay in Cuba.

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

Four Cuban Political Prisoners Will Be Released To The United States / 14ymedio

The trade unionist Vladimir Morera Bacallao. (Source: Twitter)
The trade unionist Vladimir Morera Bacallao. (Source: Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 March 2016 – Four Cuban political prisoners will leave this week for the United States, a decision that the Cuban government has taken a few days before President Barack Obama’s arrival on the island. The departure of the opponents is the result of efforts undertaken by the Catholic Church, as reported to 14ymedio by relatives of the inmates.

Opponents Vladimir Morera Bacallao, Jorge Ramírez Calderón, Niorvis Rivera Guerra and Aracelio Riveaux Noa were transferred last week to the hospital of the Combinado del Este Prison in Havana, from where they will depart on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. continue reading

Librado Linares, leader of the Cuban Reflection Movement, told this newspaper that he had been able to speak by telephone with them to confirm the news. “They told me that are flying to the United States but without their families”, said the former prisoner of the Black Spring. According to the opposition, the authorities promised that their families “may leave, but later.”

In the eastern part of the country, activist Lisandra Robert, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) with responsibility for ​​political prisoners, confirmed that “the relatives of Aracelio Riveaux Noa and Niorvis Rivera Guerra were visited by someone who identified himself as a member of the Catholic Church, accompanied by an official of the Interior Ministry.”

During the visit, the two men explained to the relatives of the prisoners that “an agreement” had been reached to release the prisoners to the United States. The condition for the families to be able to accompany them [later] was that they depart “immediately” for Havana, and from there fly to the US.

Robert explained that Aracelio Riveaux Noa included “in the list to travel” several family members but only his mother and three nephews were accepted. In the case of Niorvis Rivera Guerra, his wife and children will also emigrate.

These four political prisoners were among a group of 53 inmates who were released in January 2015, after negotiations between the governments of Cuba and the United States became public. Later, they were again returned to prison and convicted for their activism in the streets.

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.”

Campaign #Otro18 Holds First Forum in Cuba / 14ymedio

The lawyers Amado Calixto, Wilfredo Vallin and Rolando Ferrer during the press conference for the #Otro18 campaign. (14ymedio)
The lawyers Amado Calixto, Wilfredo Vallin and Rolando Ferrer during the press conference for the #Otro18 campaign. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 March 2016 – On Wednesday, the Civic Platform #Otro18 (Another 2018) held a press conference and its first forum in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana under the theme “For Freedom of Choice” with twenty people in attendance. The initiative promotes several proposals to influence the elections in 2018 for a democratic opening in the country.

Several independent media and foreign correspondents based on the island attended the forum from 9:35 in the morning, to the press conference organized at the home of activist Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna, coordinator of the Citizens Committee for Racial Integration. The activist Boris González Arena presented the initiative and gave the floor to lawyers Amado Calixto, Wilfredo Vallin and Rolando Ferrer, who explained the legal details on which the project is based. continue reading

The meeting with journalists went smoothly and without a visible police operation around the site. The managers of the initiative showed a copy of the proposals presented last 8 March in the National Assembly of People’s Power which was received and acknowledged by the authorities.

The organizers explained that, so far, the intiative’s management group is made up of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID), United Antitotalitarian Forum (FANTU), the Roundtable of the Cuban Youth (MDJC), the Progressive Arc Party, the Citizens Committee for Racial Integration, the Center for Support of the Transition, and the Cuban Law Association. The Forum says that it is open to the “incorporation of other civil society organizations and independent actors.”

Among its proposals are: the elimination of current Candidacy Commissions and the Nomination Assemblies (both controlled by the ruling Party); recognition of the right of any citizen to stand as a candidate; and restoration of the election of the president of the Republic by popular vote and secret ballot for a term of four years.

Proposed electoral campaign #Otro18 delivered to the National Assembly of People's Power on 8 March.(14ymedio)
Proposed electoral campaign #Otro18 delivered to the National Assembly of People’s Power on 8 March.(14ymedio)

When asked how they take the accusation made by other sectors of the opposition that the electoral alternative “plays into the hands of the dictatorship,” Amado Calixto suggested reviewing the process of “the Spanish transition, which ended a dictatorship through existing law.” Ferrer, meanwhile, explained that now came a phase of work of building “awareness and popular mobilization to gather support and pressure the government to make the proposed reforms.”

After the press conference, the forum, currently still in session, began with presentations and including Citizenship Revisted: The Plural Vote by Manuel Cuesta Morua; Citizen Mobilization, by Rolando Ferrer; and Election Observation: A Civil Society Monitoring Tool, by Madrazo Luna.

During the day on Tuesday, several dissidents were detained to prevent them attending the #Otro18 Forum. Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, still remains missing after being arrested Tuesday by police in the Cuban capital.

Other members of the opposition were prevented from leaving their province to attend the event, as in the case with Suleidis Perez Velazquez and Pedro Pablo Serafin Reyna, members of Independent and Democratic Cuba.

Activist Sirley Avila Arrives In Miami For Medical Treatment / 14ymedio

Activist Sirley Avila. (Ernesto Garcia Diaz)
Activist Sirley Avila. (Ernesto Garcia Diaz)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 March 2016 — Sirley Avila Leon arrived in Miami on Tuesday for medical treatment and to try to regain her mobility. The activist, 56, was the victim of a brutal assault last May, which has left serious wounds and forced her to use a wheelchair.

The trip has been organized by the Cuban Democratic Directorate in coordination with the Commission of Municipal Women of Miami. The patient will be treated at the Miami Medical Team Foundation, as reported to14ymedio by activist Agustín López Canino.

Sirley Avila became known when, as a delegate to the People’s Power from the village of Limones in the municipality of Colombia, Las Tunas, she staged a protest in 2013 to demand the reopening of a small school in her district that the local authorities had closed because of the small number of students.

Disagreements with the local authorities grew louder and the delegate was sanctioned. From that moment, she strongly denounced the harassment by State Security and collaborated with several opposition groups, including the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

On 24 May 2015, after a discussion with Osmany Carrion, a worker on her farm, Avila was attacked with a machete, which caused her the loss of a hand, a broken collarbone and problems in both legs, among other injuries. After several weeks in the hospital, Avila was discharged in a delicate state.