I am Malala, too!

“The Taliban’s greatest fear has turned out to be a 14-year-old girl armed with some books.” ENCOURAGE MALALA

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani girl from a Muslim family, who has become an activist for the right to education for girls, who are discriminated against and prevented from obtaining education because they are women or because of various cultural, religious, or political reasons. She also advocates for those who risk their lives, as she did, just by going to school. As a result of her activism, begun when she was eleven, at age fifteen she was attacked by a member of the Taliban who shot her several times; although she miraculously survived, she partially lost her hearing. So she has become the symbol of struggle for the other 57 million children in the world who have no access to education.

Malala has asked that we take a photo with a raised hand, addressed to the UN, and post it on the various social media networks to demand that education be considered a priority for the UN and all humanitarian organizations in the world. I invite you to join this campaign so we can become an extension of that brave young woman and help in her efforts to train children for life, which is making a better world.

With this writing I publish my petition, later I will place my picture in Facebook, Twitpic, Twitter, Windows Live, YouTube, etc., as well as on the right side of the blog to continuously ask the United Nations to institute education as a priority for everyone from early childhood. We support the work of this girl, as did the former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was photographed with his hand raised, declaring “I am Malala.” Become an activist for the rights of millions of boys and girls children to education. Be more than an activist: Be like Malala! Join us!

Translated by Tomás A.

14 September 2013

“Heroes” by Decree / Fernando Damaso

Archive Photo

The profusion of heroes by decree, both Heroes of the Republic and Heroes of the Workers, has always caught my attention, especially when from time to time there is a new crop. They are recognized for military actions, for spying, for cutting cane, for scientific achievements, for baking bread, etc.

Céspedes, Agramonte, Maceo, Gómez, Martí, and others, did not require any decree in order to be heroes: the people, who alone have this right, designated them. More recently this was repeated with Mella, Villena, Guiteras, Frank País, José Antonio Echevarría, Camilo Cienfuegos, etc. All of these, maybe some more than others, are enduring heroes.

Not so with those appointed by decree, who, for lack of a fixative, are perishable and tend to disappear along with the system that produced them. Where are the thousands of prefabricated heroes in the former socialist countries, mainly in the former Soviet Union? Hardly anyone remembers them, and most have been swept away by the wind of time, like dry leaves fallen from trees. So, with any luck, it will also happen here. In practice they are heroes unknown to most of the population, who had nothing to do with their appointment as such, made in response to the short-term political interests of the authorities in power. The few who are known can at most enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame while it is necessary to use them, requiring the constant inflation of publicity; when it stops, they deflate like a homemade hot-air balloon.

It turns out that those appointed by the people continue enlarging after death, while the others disappear and are forgotten. The problem of our heroes is too serious to be taken lightly. Just take a look at history!

Translated by Tomás A.

12 September 2013

Eliecer Avila Defends His Right To Be Politically Active / Lilianne Ruiz

Moderator Gustavo Pérez (left), Eliecer Ávila (center). Photo by Lilianne Ruiz.

HAVANA, Cuba, September 6, 2013, Lilianne Ruiz / www.cubanet.org. – Recently, the Patmos Forum held its third conference. This time the topic of discussion was The Quality of Life, in connection with politics.

The meeting was attended by about 30 people, gathered in the courtyard at the home of independent journalist Yoel Espinosa Medrano, located in the center of a Santa Clara favela (squatter settlement), a few meters from the most important political plaza of the province.

The moderator was Gustavo Pérez Silverio, the historian and researcher on racial matters, who maintains a working connection with the regime.

The special guest was Eliezer Ávila, who is slowly ceasing to be identified only as the young University of Information Science student who got into trouble with the former President of the National Assembly, and is becoming known as a political leader who could have some role in the future of the island.

Ávila began his talk by defining himself as “a Cuban citizen who wants to exercise his right to engage in politics in Cuba.”

The lack of civic culture was addressed as the key to the whole question, recognizing that in the lack of civic responsibility lies the problem of freedom for Cubans. “A citizen is a person who has power, not someone who has to sacrifice themselves for a project in which they are not involved in the decision-making process, “said Avila.

After his speech of over an hour, the floor was opened to audience questions. Librado Linares, the former political prisoner from the Cause of 75 (from the Black Spring of 2003), began by recognizing the invited guest as a man with political talent, motivation, and strength. But he said he was unable to discern in Avila’s “We Are More” movement a concrete strategy for enlisting citizens, overcome by terror and apathy, or for dealing with the pattern of repression by the political police against the Movement.

The We Are More Political Movement would bring together people of different political persuasions, united by the common interest of presenting concrete demands to the Castro government. It would not be limited to Cubans living on the island, but would also welcome Cubans from the diaspora.

“This is a project that I want to build with the views of as many people as possible, because I do not want the people to serve one point of view, but for the point of view to serve the people,” he said.

The bloggers from La Joven Cuba (Young Cuba), labeled by the regime as the “loyal opposition,” had been invited to the Patmos meeting.

Regarding the absence of La Joven Cuba bloggers, Ávila told Cubanet:

“I don’t believe that any political distance is healthy. I had hoped this dialogue would occur, but at the last minute I was told that they had no interest in participating and invited me to dialogue on their blog. It is ridiculous for one Cuban to invite another to a discussion on the Internet, knowing that we don’t have that possibility.”

The Patmos Forum, created in February 2013 by a group of activists led by Baptist pastor Mario Félix Lleonart, was conceived as a space for the discussion of various topics in which different schools of thought are represented.

Previous events were devoted to the Origin of Life and the Right to Life, consecutively.

On this occasion, Lleonart announced the adoption and adaptation by “Patmos” of the Manual of Political Advocacy of the organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide, with the intention of providing workshops that equip Cuban believers with the power to influence the country’s politics, and end the myth that Christians are alienated from partisan politics that affect their quality of life and respect for human rights.

By Lilianne Ruiz, From Cubanet

Translated by Tomás A.

6 September 2013

Federation of Cuban Women: Reasons to Celebrate? / Yaremis Flores

HAVANA, Cuba, August, 2013 www.cubanet.org – At age 16, every girl who is part of an “integrated” and “revolutionary” family, automatically becomes a “federated” woman. Perhaps, like me, the only memory they retain of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) is when a neighbor came by the house to collect the dues.

On August 23rd, the only state organization that “defends” the human rights of women celebrated its 53rd anniversary. At the time, extensive articles in the official press accentuated stories about Heroines of Labor, including a female crane operator, among others.

They stuck to those cases of women who were able to overcome the barriers of sexism, but as usual this is a government strategy to hide those Cuban women who are victims of discrimination and of domestic and institutional violence.

Recently, Cuba was examined by the Committee against Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, for its acronym in English) and the FMC was challenged about the absence of complaints on this issue.

As noted by one of the experts, “the absence of complaints does not always mean the absence of problems; sometimes it’s because of fear and various other reasons that women do not get around to making the complaint.”

In fact, Cuban women do not recognize the House of Guidance to Woman and the Family, nor the FMC, as potential organizations to resolve their problems. This is demonstrated by the low numbers provided by the State regarding assistance to members of the Federation in cases of violence between 2006 to 2008.

Eloísa Ricardo, after a history of mistreatment and abuse by her former husband, a government official, looked in vain to the FMC. On the other hand, Mrs. Regla Bárbara complained to the Federation, and received a response letter sending the case to the Prosecutor’s office, which is standard practice.

The FMC reached this anniversary under the disappointed and concerned gaze of international bodies such as CEDAW, for failing for, so many years, in getting the  Parliament to pass a specific law protecting women.

By Yaremis Flores

August, 27, 2013

From Cubanet

Translated by: Tomás A.

Tomb Raiding and Wreath Robbing / Rebeca Monzo

The scandal of thefts in cemeteries continues, despite all the denunciations published inside and outside the island. Of course for many years here there was a silent complicity by the official press, the only one accredited in the country. But with the advent of technology and the access, although greatly restricted, to the social networks, this seems to have escaped the censors and now, from time to time, an occasional critical comment appears in local newspapers on this thorny subject.

No longer is it only the Colon Cemetery, perhaps the most looted simply because it has the most works of art of household value, but also Baptist, Chinese, and Jewish graveyards have recently been vandalized, by practitioners of African cults, who use bones of the dead (preferably unbaptized) as offerings for their “religious” practices, in the face of the unpunished and easy access to them.

Another phenomenon that occurred since the appearance of the two currencies — the current Cuban pesos (CUP), in which they pay you wages and pensions, and the strong pesos (CUC), in which you are forced to pay for almost everything — is the reappearance at burials of two types of wreaths: the poor ones, with sparse flowers, unattractive and mass-produced, with paper tape and letters in purple ink, offered for CUP, and occasionally in limited supply, depending on time and death; and the others, for “hard currency,” well-made with beautiful imported flowers, fabric ribbons for the dedication in gold letters, and in unlimited supply. As a result of this another type of theft began: that of wreaths.

It is sad to think about the people who have made a sacrifice offered to their deceased friend or family member of one of these beautiful wreaths acquired in hard currency which, just after the burial is concluded and the accompanying mourners dispersed, then disappears “as if by magic” and is offered, in CUC of course, by other unscrupulous mourners, or is simply dismantled to sell its flowers, to people who already have pre-established contacts to buy them.

This has led increasingly to seeing fewer floral offerings on the graves. This type of desecration also may occur at some of the monuments to heroes in the city, where foreign delegations deposit elegant wreaths, as recently occurred at the monument to Eloy Alfaro on the Avenue of the Presidents, between 15th and 17th in Vedado.

Until now, as far as I know, there is no effective measure for stopping this miserable and criminal practice. Nor do I know of anything having been returned to the owners, any of the sculptures or large bronze crucifixes stolen over the past twenty years. My family’s burial vault was plundered; I submitted the complaint, supported with before-and-after photos, over five years ago, yet the cemetery authorities have not given me any response.

It is shameful that these activities continue to occur in the 21st century, practices that seem better suited to the Middle Ages, and which are perpetrated in the face of the apparent apathy of the authorities, who have the obligation of ensuring the preservation of our historical and cultural heritage.

Translated by: Tomás A.

29 August 2013

The Forgotten Prisoner / Lilianne Ruiz

Armando Sosa Fortuny. Photo by Alexis Zabaleta, courtesy of the author

Havana, Cuba, August 2013, www.cubanet.org- Armando Sosa Fortuny has turned 71 in the prison known as Kilo 9, in Camaguey province.

In the photo, which was secretly taken by a member of the Committee for the Liberation of Political Prisoners (CPLPP) who visited him this past January, you can see that he looks like someone’s grandfather.

He has been in prison for 18 years. He was sentenced on April 25, 1996, to 30 years in prison on charges of “infiltration”, “illegal entry into Cuba” and “other acts against the security of the state.”

He is a man from another time, from a time when armed struggle was presumed to be an acceptable alternative for overthrowing dictatorships. So he seems left behind, obsolete in this age when civic struggle and nonviolent resistance garners greater sympathy.

Recently, in a telephone interview from prison, he told this reporter: “It was a different era. If I were in the streets now I would be struggling for recognition of the civil and political rights of the Cuban people.”

His diabetes is being controlled with insulin. Ironically the poor prison food keeps his blood-sugar levels stable. After having gone from bad to worse for years, he says candidly:

“The food is OK.”

A sister who used to visit him died in Miami. Now only the members of the CBLPP come to see him, once a month. They bring him a box with the food that they are allowed to bring in, and talk with him for a few hours.

As he tells it, early last month, July, he was taken to an office where an immigration officer was waiting to tell him that he and his comrades-in-arms were included in the Cuban government’s immediate-release program, on the condition that they left the country at once.

“That’s what I want. It’s been many years,” he said.

Then, State Security came to visit him later that month, two weeks after the first visit, to tell him  signs were appearing, written in crayon, saying “Free Fortuny!”, or “Castro, free Fortuny!” on the walls in some parts of the city of Camaguey. Paradoxically they told him that this was not much of a problem, because it was a simple matter for the CDR to cover over the posters.

Sosa Fortuny interpreted both visits as “a psychological game, maybe because they wanted me to tell the boys not to put up any more posters.”

Other causes from the early Castro years

This is not the first case for which Sosa Fortuny has spent prison time. In 1960 he was tried on similar charges for having come with 25 men to fight in the mountains against the recently-established dictatorship. Many of those convicted on that occasion were immediately executed by firing squad.

That first case ended with his release in 1978, as part of an amnesty that benefited over three thousand political prisoners, accomplished through international pressure in the face of human rights violations in Cuba.

He only spent 15 years in freedom in the United States, returning on October 15, 1994, when he decided, in his words, “to create an Eastern Front to overthrow tyranny.”

But the night of the landing, a member of the infiltration team fired a shot that killed the Party Secretary of Villa Clara Province, and that provoked a firefight in which he and some of his companions were wounded.

“We saw the car coming from the causeway and our intention was to get the occupants out so we could go down the Yaguajay road to Escambray. But as Humberto motioned at them to get out of the car, it was so dark that when I passed between them the noise startled Humberto, who fired the shot accidentally,” says Sosa Fortuny.

Regardless of the responsibility that they blamed him and his companions for, the punishments — imprisonment of up to 30 years, and a sentence of death by firing squad for Humberto Real Suárez — were excessive.

Until 2012, when they commuted Real Suárez’s death sentence to 30 years in prison, he suffered for 17 years the torture of attending the mock firing squads of those who came back shouting anti-government slogans, as related by former political prisoners who shared a cell with him.

In the Cuban prisons there are many testimonies of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment to which the prison population is subjected. Everything indicates that the guards are given carte blanche to carry out beatings and abuse that have come to infuriate many.

Sosa Fortuny and his companions have not accepted the government’s political-ideological re-education:

“In Kilo 7 we’ve had to scream a lot against beatings of other prisoners. They abandoned a boy in a wheelchair. There you have to take a stand, and cause a problem. That cost us punishment cells, but I’m not sorry. I always express my ideas, wherever,” he added.

Finally, Sosa Fortuny hopes to convey a message to Cubans inside and outside the island:

“That I send a hug. On my wounds I bore the pain of the Cuban people.”

He also says he is awaiting a decision by the Cuban government to release him.

Others who are still prisoners from Sosa Fortuny’s case are Miguel Díaz Bauzá, age 70, and Humberto Real Suárez, 42. We will be updating them in the next few days.

From Cubanet

Translated by Tomás A.

22 August 2013

Sports Debacle / Fernando Damaso

Archive Photo

The 14th World Athletics Championships have concluded and the Cuban delegation, composed of twenty-four athletes, managed to get only a silver medal (men’s triple jump) and two bronze medals (women’s shot put and high jump). The medal hopes pinned on the other members of the delegation, of both sexes, failed to materialize. According to the commentators, this was the worst performance by Cuba in these championships.

I think that the Sports Commissioner, officials, coaches, and trainers are now doing the necessary analysis and drawing the appropriate conclusions to explain the bad results. Since I am not a specialist, I don’t dare write about the possible technical deficiencies that influenced them. But as a spectator I can offer a general conclusion: in a country where everything goes wrong, sports cannot be the exception.

Overall deterioration has been a constant during the past fifty-four years, and has affected agriculture, industry, transportation, fisheries, health, education, public services and even the decline of social discipline and loss of civic and moral values. How can we expect sports to escape this curse?

What has led to the current disastrous state of sport? Narrow thinking that will not allow athletes to participate on teams or at events where professionals compete; obsolete and badly maintained sports facilities; lack of necessary equipment; poor training conditions; poverty wages; the preponderance of political over sports concerns; the requirement to win at all costs; and other absurdities and aberrations. This is not only true for track and field, but also in baseball, soccer, volleyball, basketball, swimming and other disciplines.

Our athletes — the least free, most politically pressured, and lowest paid in the world — have no real incentives that guarantee their standard of living and that of their families during the few years they are active, and worse, a stable and decent future when they retire. It is not enough to compete (here the verb is replaced by combat) with the heart (which we know no one can compete without), but also with the chest, legs, arms, and all other body parts, well trained and in optimal physical and psychological condition.

There can be many explanations for the debacle, and once again the Empire and the Blockade can be blamed, but until we grab the bull by the horns, and not just give a new twist to the existing archaic conceptions, but replace the slow and fearful steps now being taken by long and courageous strides, neither sports nor anything else will escape the current quagmire. The solution here, as with all the other problems, lies in reason rather than emotion.

Translated by Tomás A.

19 August 2013

The Day After Fidel Castro / Ivan Garcia

Libro-Fidel-Castro-620x330Never has the life or death of one man awakened such dissimilar expectations. Fidel Castro, who turns 87 on August 13, has been given up for dead so many times that when death does come for him, many will believe it’s a joke.

Castro, aware of the countless times he has cheated death, has woven a legend around himself. After the 1953 assault on a military barracks in Santiago de Cuba, several newspapers of the time published the news of his demise.

The military escapade of trying to take a military fortress with a troop of inexperienced amateur soldiers armed with dove-hunting rifles ended, of course, in a complete rout.

Most of the young assailants were killed in battle or executed by the repressive forces of the Fulgencio Batista regime. In those days, the life of Fidel Castro wasn’t worth much.

But the 26-year-old lawyer, born 500 miles east of Havana on a farm in the Birán region of Holguin, managed to avoid being executed by a bullet to the head thanks to Lieutenant Sarria, a Republican Army officer who saved his life.

Then in prison, according to the official history, they tried to poison him.

When on December 2, 1956 he landed with an army of 82 men on the beach at Las Coloradas, a rugged area infested by swamps, Batista’s Air Force, which was aware of the landing site in advance, made target practice of the bewildered guerrillas.

Everyone gave Fidel Castro up for dead. They were so sure of his death that the troops shut down their actions against the guerrilla. Once again the “subversive one” had escaped death.

You already know the story. He regrouped with the survivors of his band, and with the help of peasant farmers, the inefficiency of the army, and collections of money and weapons from political parties opposed to Batista, he managed to seize power in January 1959.

Two years earlier, in the Sierra Maestra, he escaped by a complete miracle. His right-hand man, who slept 15 feet from his hammock, was an Army plant. But the guy lacked the guts to kill him, as had been planned. The “traitor” was caught by the guerrillas and executed.

Once in power, he was left unscathed by various attempts conceived by former comrades-in-arms, a German lover, the CIA, and anti-Castro exiles. He exaggerates this. He says the U.S. special services tried to kill him more than 600 times.

Castro and the official media aggrandize everything, from production statistics to attacks on his life. What is documented is that at least twelve times the CIA and opposition groups planned to kill him.

On a visit to Chile in 1973, an anti-Castro commando was about to execute him. A gun fastened to a television camera was pointed at his head. But without a safe path of escape, the organizers decided to abort the attempt.

On Monday, July 31, 2006, when Carlos Valenciaga, his personal secretary, announced that due to serious health problems Fidel had delegated power to his brother Raul, the government began to prepare his funeral ceremony, and on a massive mountain in the Sierra Maestra they urgently built a monumental tomb.

From that date, the international press has had his obituaries at the ready. A foreign reporter told me that his agency had sent him to Havana for the sole purpose of reporting the day of death of the leader of the revolution.

Until then, he was asked to maintain a low profile while waiting for the big news. He has now lost count of the number of times Castro has been “killed” in Florida.

Seven years after Fidel Castro’s retirement for health reasons, Cubans barely speak of the former president. No one on the street takes seriously what he says or writes. He’s like a grandfather with dementia who in his lucid moments likes to tell tales of his epic exploits.

After arriving in “death’s waiting room,” as he confided to a journalist from the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, he has dedicated himself to: prophesying the end of the world after a nuclear war; alerting the world to an alleged conspiracy by the Bilderberg Club; and investigating the moringa, a plant that, in his opinion, “could save the starving Third World.”

To this day, on television roundtables and news reports, any crazy pronouncement by the Commander-in-Chief is read in a serious tone. Today, more than ever, you can see in the state media his cult of personality.

In celebration of his birthday, songfests, sports marathons, and book releases are anticipated. But due to the daily grind of hardship without letup, a broad segment of the public does not have pleasant feelings toward its former top leader.

They blame him for the delays, the shortages, and the precarious standard of living in the country today. They see him as a distant ship sailing toward the horizon. Few ask anymore what it will be like the day after his death.

And the direction taken by the General suggests that the legacy of his brother will endure after his physical disappearance. Predictions about the future of Cuba are bleak.

For many on the island, at a time when the developed world remains embroiled in a financial and political crisis with no end in sight, the desired democratic change seems unlikely.

All they can see in the picture is more Castroism. Without Fidel Castro.

Iván García

Photo: Fidel Castro during the presentation of the book Warrior of Time, by Cuban journalist Katiuska Blanco, in February 2012. Taken from El Nuevo Diario de Nicaragua.

Translated by Tomás A.

13 August 2013

Sports Euphemisms / Rebeca Monzo

These days on the television screens, fortunately, they have dedicated one of the few existing channels to broadcast (usually delayed but sometimes live) the competitions from the 2013 World Athletics Championships, which are being held in Moscow.

To enjoy this magnificent spectacle, we must disregard the Cuban narration. What for everyone else is a competition, is for our officials “a battle.” While all the athletes from other countries came to participate with brains, legs, arms, etc., the Cubans came to “fight with heart in hand” (something very difficult and uncomfortable in my view).

The “Cuban warriors” seem disconcerted by the noise in the stadium, which is strange for people who live in a country like ours where there is so much noise at all hours, while athletes from other countries do not seem distracted. This was the case with the pole vaulter Yurisley Silva; that’s why the favorite failed, according to our commentators. The same thing happens with public pressure, which seems to affect only Cubans, and not competitors such as Elena Isimbaeva, who was not only going for the gold, but after already announcing her retirement–reasons to be under more pressure, yet she nevertheless got it.

Finally, what I find most ridiculous is that when a Cuban participant earns a medal, it is rare that it is not dedicated to Fidel, rather than to the athlete’s family. I’ve never seen any athlete from another country dedicate a medal to the leaders in power instead of to their loved ones. Another thing that caught my attention, to conclude my disquisitions, is that when a Cuban wins a bronze medal, it usually shines brighter than gold.

To tell you the truth, as much as I like sports, I have to consciously prepare myself not to get infuriated at the bias, the yelling, and the crassness that usually accompany the commentary of Cuban broadcasters, experts in sports and euphemisms.

Translated by Tomás A.

14 August 2013

Laritza Diversent Reports from Geneva / Laritza Diversent

Photo: In the background on the right, Laritza Diversent and Yaremis Flores

Introduction by Tania Quintero

On December 10, 2010, without resources, publicity, or fanfare, attorney and freelance journalist Laritza Diversent founded a modest office in her home to provide free, independent advice to Cubans and foreigners on national and international legal issues and human rights. She established the Cubalex Legal Information Center. Over time she was joined by other lawyers, such as Yaremis Flores and her husband Veizant Boloy. These three young people are of Afro-Cuban origin and humble backgrounds. Cubalex also investigates and reports to international and regional organizations regarding individual complaints of human-rights violations on the island. It is located at the corner of 169 Lindero and Angeles, El Calvario, Havana, Cuba 13900. Telephone: (0053) 5-241 5948 (Laritza’s cell). Email: centrocubalex@gmail.com Any help is welcome.

On Cubanet you can read the two reports presented by Cubalex in Geneva, at the 55th meeting of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which on July 8 and 9 was dedicated to analyzing the situation of Cuban women. The following is the report of Laritza Diversent.

Report from Laritza Diversent

Cubalex presented a “shadow” (alternative) report to CEDAW. Yaremis Flores and I, representing the Cubalex office, participated in the meeting of the experts with NGOs from the countries that were studied at the 55th session, including Cuba.

On Saturday, July 6, we traveled to Switzerland, coincidentally sharing the flight with some members of the official Cuban delegation that participated in the examination. Upon arrival at the airport in Geneva, there were other members of the delegation. One of them, after talking on the phone and looking at us repeatedly while we were waiting for our luggage, came over and took our photo without our permission.

He said it was “so we would look beautiful in the press” and sarcastically welcomed us to Geneva. We told him we were prepared to be photographed by State Security. Then he said he was from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that he had studied at the Law School, had graduated in 2004, and knew us both. A pity that we didn’t remember him. If he publishes our photo, we will post his, when giving messages to the members of the Cuban delegation.

On Monday the 8th we turned up early at the United Nations headquarters for the process of accreditation; we had previously requested this and had received confirmation that we were accredited. Yet strangely, our registration did not appear in the database. We had to wait two hours for the confirmation of our accreditation.

After verifying the location of the private meeting with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), we made sure to contact the International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW), an NGO that organizes the private meetings between the Committee and NGOs from the countries that are being examined, to confirm our presence.

Representatives of this organization were surprised that an NGO based in the island presented a report critical of the situation of Cuban women, because the rest of the national organizations, including the National Union of Jurists, and the Cuban Association for Animal Production, supported the state report.

Earlier that morning, NGOs recognized by the Cuban government had presented themselves there to confirm their participation. Strangely, they asked if there would be other participants. Until then, IWRAW was not aware of our presence in Geneva.

We returned to the room where the meeting would take place and found the supposed lawyer for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We then learned that our presence had caused problems in the Permanent Mission of Cuba in Geneva. They thought we were going to pull out posters and yell anti-government slogans.

As a precaution, we stayed in the meeting place and waited until it started, to head off any manipulation or government action. After the presentations, the NGOs recognized by the regime, instead of speaking privately with the Committee about the problems of Cuban women, devoted their efforts to discrediting us.

They claimed that Cubalex consisted of only five members, who responded to the interests of the United States, a country which for more than 50 years had imposed a “blockade,” the main cause of violence and discrimination against women in Cuba. They also said that our report lacked objectivity, had little technical rigor, and manipulated the information.

Among other insults, they categorized us as amateurs. They questioned the financing of our trip, claiming that they had to seek help from UN agencies. The Committee had to ask them to stop their attacks and concentrate on the problems of Cuban women.

But they were unable to answer direct questions from the Committee about prostitution, civil unions, and whether a woman who was a victim of violence could be represented by a lawyer. They sowed confusion and wasted time on political speeches, preventing the Committee from clearing up its doubts on these subjects.

For our part, we raised these issues, which we consider the most alarming about the situation of women in Cuba. We warned about recent amendments to the Criminal Code and how it might affect women as victims.

The strategy of these government NGOs, both in the private meeting and at the meeting of the Committee with the NGOs from the countries to be examined, was to consume the time allotted to the country, to prevent us from speaking. They repeated everything that was in their reports, supporting the government. A position that was also requested by the Committee.

At the meeting with NGOs in the countries to be considered at the 55th session (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Afghanistan, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom), one of the experts directed a question to Cubalex, and members of the official Cuban NGOs consumed all the time, and we could not answer. That position was requested by the Committee Chair, who asked us to present additional information in writing, which we did the following day.

Our perception is that the quasi-state NGOs and the Permanent Mission of Cuba in Geneva were nervous and undiplomatic in the face of our unexpected presence. The person who said he was from the Foreign Ministry accosted us at our arrival and tried to intimidate us, hostilely taking our photos without our permission. The NGO officials showed a lack of education and respect.

As independent lawyers based in Havana, we are pleased with our first experience at the United Nations. We were able to take the opportunity to criticize the Cuban government in a setting where it had never been confronted by an NGO that it does not recognize.

Despite the pressures and provocations, we maintained our equanimity, always respecting the place (Palace of the Nations, the main UN headquarters in Geneva), and the honorable members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Before, it was very comfortable for the so-called Cuban NGOs to beguile with many words, without saying anything and without fear of contradiction. The Members of the Committee members felt uncomfortable about the hostility and lack of diplomacy that the Cuban delegation showed toward us.

Translated by: Tomás A.

11 July 2013

Calixto, the Resolute* / Lilianne Ruiz

Calixto Ramon Martinez Arias, after his release. Image taken from Cubanet

This past Tuesday, the Cuban authorities finally acknowledged Calixto R. Martinez Arias’s right to go free, after he had served more than six months in prison, initially for the crime of “insulting the leadership figures of the Revolution.” He had no trial.

Martinez Arias twice engaged in what is known in the post-1959 history of Cuban political prisoners as “taking a stand” (literally, “planting oneself”): he declared a hunger strike. In the first, he went 33 days without eating, the second, 22. Until, after the second strike, it was reported by state security that his case had been reviewed and they had “understood” his demand for freedom.

“I started the first hunger strike to protest my stay in the Combinado del Este prison,” Martinez Arias said. “I also refused to wear prison garb. When an inmate declares a hunger strike, the guards use many methods to make them quit. The first thing they say is that you are committing a disciplinary infraction, which hurts your eiligibility for rights such as conditional parole, and for family and conjugal visits. And ultimately they take you to the infirmary where the doctor will take your vital signs and issue you a “suitable cellnotice, which means just that: you are fit to be taken to the punishment cells.”

“The punishment cell measures about 6 by 8 feet. It has no light. It has a “Turkish” toilet, and a water basin you can access twice a day, when the guards allow. There were days when they refused me water because a captain who claimed to be the second-in-command of Building 3, where I was detained, said that I could not drink water and took it away from me.

“By day you have to lie on the floor or stand. To that end, they remove the mattress. They left me my clothes, but took away anything with which I might cover myself. I spent very cold days, especially during the first strike. The cells are very wet and very cold, deliberately prepared to be that way. There were times when I had to sleep sitting on the floor, up against the wall, because the guards would come very late to give me the mattress. Lying on the floor you can contract a lung disease from the cold and moisture. The floor is very dirty because the cells are not cleaned. There are many insects: enormous rats, droves of cockroaches. It is a sacrifice that you have to make, convinced that it is all designed to psychologically torture you.

“During the second hunger strike, of 16 days, they took me to what they call ’the increased’ area, which is more severe. Then they took me out of there after one day to an even harsher cell. There the conditions were more brutal. They kept a surveillance camera on me at all times; they never turned off the light.”

In the second hunger strike, Martinez Arias started bleeding profusely from his gums and his teeth began to fall out. He lost 45 pounds. But he says: “I became a lot stronger.”

The “Official Organ of the Communist Party of Cuba,” the newspaper Granma, on Wednesday April 10, published an account of the “good conditions” in which prisoners live in Cuban jails. Regarding this, Martinez Arias said:

“This is an absurdity. I can assure you that they began preparing this article in December. In the month of December they informed us that journalists from the national and foreign press accredited in Cuba were going to visit the Combinado del Este prison. Major Rodolfo, who is in charge of the building where I was, a building for ’pendings,’ explained to us that the visitors would not be given access to our building because of the appalling conditions. Prisoners there live in a state of overcrowding, because every day many ’pending’ prisoners enter.

“It also has many leaks, and the bathrooms are in an extremely unsanitary condition. The building should be declared uninhabitable. Rodolfo explained that he was not going to take visitors there, because of these conditions, and that this was not a bad decision because, and I can almost quote him verbatim, ’when a visitor comes to your house, you want to show him the best, not the worst parts.’ For that reason, he said, they were going to repair a wing of building No.1. The foreign media should not be allowed to have access to the punishment cells. In fact, in none of the pictures they showed are these cells seen.”

In Cuba, the exercise of the right that everyone has to seek, receive, and distribute information, by any means of expression, without limitation by borders—as stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—may be considered a crime. But on occasion, to put an independent journalist in prison, as in the case of Martinez Arias, the authorities bring charges of common crimes against him, to deflect the political nature of the arrest.

On September 16, 2012, Martinez Arias had been inquiring of some terminal-workers near Jose Marti International Airport about a batch of medical aid provided by international humanitarian organizations to address the outbreak of cholera and dengue and that, because of official mismanagement, had spoiled.

On leaving the airport, as he and others took shelter from the rain, perched on the benches of a bus stop to avoid the puddles, a patrol car arrived and gave them all tickets; but Martinez Arias was transferred to the police unit of Santiago de las Vegas on the charge of being “illegally” in Havana, having an address of the province of Camagüey. Martinez Arias claimed in his defense that “the brothers Fidel and Raul Castro are natives of the province of Oriente.”

“Immediately” said the self-described activist “the police handcuffed me, took me to a dark hallway, and beat me hard.”

The police who detained and beat him then accused him of “insulting the figures of the leaders of the revolution.” He was automatically moved to the Valle Grande prison, and from there, as punishment for continually denouncing through his colleagues the human rights abuses of the prison population, he was taken to the maximum-security Combinado del Este prison.

During the first hunger strike, State Security informed Martinez Arias that the prosecutor’s petition stated that he had been “insulting” and “resistant”, for having offended a policeman.

“If I had reacted during the beating they gave me by dodging a blow, or by landing a defensive blow to the policeman who was giving me the beating, I would have been accused of ’attacking,’” Calixto said. Police in Cuba can feel “offended” and “attacked” if you don’t react with absolute passivity to their arbitrariness and brutality, and then they fabricate the charges of “insult” and “attack”, respectively, resulting in the person’s imprisonment.

Martinez Arias believes that the visibility conferred by having been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, together with the solidarity of human-rights activists, independent journalists in Cuba, and many foreign media with the participation of Cubans living abroad, managed to send a message to the government of Raul Castro that a person imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression is not alone, and you cannot keep them in prison subjected to cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment without paying a high political cost that limits your room to maneuver with impunity.

 *Translator’s note: Literally “the planted one”

 Translated by: Tomás A.

This post appeared originally in Cubanet.org

12 April 2013

Economic Readjustment at the Expense of Rights / Laritza Diversent

The Cuban government recently released its draft guidelines for economic and social policy, for approval at the next congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, scheduled to be held in April 2011. Apparently during the next 5 years the issue of fundamental rights of Cubans, mainly workers’ rights, will be off the state’s agenda.

In Cuba the economic system is based on the “socialist state ownership of all the people” over the basic means of production. The new update of the economic model takes a series of measures to eliminate subsidies, gratuities, and paternalistic treatment, but does not mention citizens’ guarantees against the power of an administration that is completely unresponsive to its constituents.

The socialist state continues to appear as the only entity capable of satisfying the general interests of Cuban society, both at the individual and collective levels. The new policies strengthen its enterprises at the detriment of the rights of workers.

This strategy was already put in practice with recent legislative changes undertaken by the State Council, which have as their main objective the elimination of the legal responsibility of the “socialist state” and its enterprises for the protection and relocation of redundant workers.

In the face of this excessive power of the socialist administration, labor guarantees are minimal. State enterprises have the authority to carry out restructuring plans, to make mass layoffs, and to question the ability of workers, citing lack of fitness.

The worker’s only means of defense is with a “Labor Base Justice Body”, one of whose members represents the administration of the entity that did the firing, or with the courts, which under the constitution receive direct instructions from the Council of State, the same body that enacted the measures restricting the exercise of workers’ rights.

There is no right to strike, and demonstrations are allowed only if they are organized by the state itself or its mass organizations. Anyway, the Constitution makes it clear that no civil liberties can be exercised against the existence and objectives of the socialist state.

Obviously the rights of citizens are not on the priority list of the Cuban state. The economic readjustment seeks only the survival of a system that has conclusively proven to be ineffective, and the staying power of the longstanding historical socialist leadership, at the expense of the welfare of Cubans.

Translated by: Tomás A.

December 19, 2010

Waiting for Changes in State Policy / Laritza Diversent

After two months, uncertainty fills the Cuban scene. The government still has not specified the principles that will govern self-employment. Meanwhile, the number of the unemployed and the expectations of the population are increasing.

One of the concerns raised is whether the government will grant rights to the self-employed in order to extract administrative concessions, bearing in mind that it considers the activity of individuals as an adjunct of the state.

Up to now it has said nothing about this. But several of the activities authorized for self-employment are related to the exploitation of mineral resources, such as quarrying, and producing pottery items for sale.

Others, like producing and selling granite and marble items, remain stalled, according to the official newspaper Granma, because there is no legal market for acquiring the goods.

The Ministry of Basic Industry is authorized to grant or deny mining concessions for small deposits of certain minerals, recognized by the Constitution of the Republic as properties of “socialist state ownership of all the people.”

Two years ago, the citizen Amada Pupo Cisneros presented an application to the National Office of Mineral Resources for exploitation of mineral clay in the town of La Estrella in Las Tunas. His claim was rejected by the recently deposed Minister of Basic Industry, Yadira García Vera.

The former government official denied the right on the recommendation of the National Bureau of Mineral Resources, which determined that the request by Pupo Cisneros was contrary to the general principles of the practice of self-employment.

Since 1992, state assets can be transmitted, wholly or partially, to the proprietorship of private persons or corporations, with the prior approval of the Council of Ministers or its Executive Committee. But the government only recognizes this right for foreign investors.

Cuban nationals like Amada Pupo are excluded. Their participation in the national economy is seriously limited by the Constitution, by Decree-Law 141 of September 8, 1993, “On Exercise of Self-Employment”, and by other complementary legislation regulating this right.

Article 21 of the Constitution recognizes private ownership of the means and tools for personal or family work. But it restricts that right by prohibiting their use in obtaining income from the exploitation of the labor of another.

Despite being a constitutional right, in the last parliamentary session the President of the Councils of State and Ministers, and a member of the Politburo and Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), announced that his government would lift some restrictions on the exercise of self-employment, including hiring labor.

Nevertheless, the government made clear that it will maintain its policy of identifying, monitoring, and controlling these activities, and who can perform them. It will also oversee the conditions of marketing the products and services of the self-employed. According to the newspaper Granma, an official organ of the PCC, the measures will become effective, without specifying the day, starting in October.

So far, the socialist government denies its nationals the right to draw on public services, natural resources or public works, although the law gives them that possibility. We will have to wait and see if they change the discriminatory principles of state policies and its system of exclusion. It is time that the Cubans become involved, on equal terms, in their own economy.

Translated by: Tomás A.

December 17 2010

Economic Guidelines Ignore Policies of Segregation on the Island / Laritza Diversent

The draft guidelines for economic and social policy proposed by the Cuban communists declare that equal rights and opportunities exist for all citizens, not egalitarianism. But at no point do they give respect to the rights of Cubans.

On the contrary, inherent in the “Update of the Socialist Economic Model” is the continuing discrimination against Cubans in favor of foreigners, principally when it comes to participating in the national economy.

The island’s communists continue promoting the participation of foreign capital, while precluding the formation of capital by nationals, by excessive regulation and state control. Notwithstanding that the Cuban Constitution treats foreigners and nationals equally in the enjoyment of rights.

While only foreigners are allowed to join with the state in large businesses, Cubans must comply with limits on their activities that impede the progress of individuals and families. Is this what they call equality of rights and opportunities?

It is no secret that foreigners enjoy a privileged position in Cuba, from an economic and social standpoint. Of course these freedoms are not a response to external pressures, but are purely government policy.

While a self-employed Cuban must pay tax, up to 50% on income over 50,000 pesos, foreigners pay a maximum of 30% on their profits. The policy is to apply higher taxes on higher incomes, hindering the activity of Cubans in their own economy

The new regulations on self-employment are pure formalities. They still do not encourage new participants, who have the responsibility of contributing to the burdens of state, creating jobs, and increasing productivity in the country. Nor do they take into account that many families depend on the progress of the activity of the self-employed.

It is fair to say that foreign investment in Cuba brings benefits to the economy. But it is not the sole solution for addressing the overwhelming problems, nor a justification for a policy of discrimination.

In the Cuban Constitution, discrimination on the basis of national origin is prohibited, and punishable by law. But there is still no legislation giving effect to this principle. Moreover, the government itself implements policies of segregation, which prevent its citizens from investing in their own economy, from being responsible for their own fate.

Translated by: Tomás A.

December 15, 2010

Legal Representative of the Minister of Justice Appears in Court / Laritza Diversent

This past August 10th, Dr. Diego Fernando Cañizares Abeledo, a specialist in the Legislative and Advisory Directorate of the Ministry of Justice (MINJUS), appeared before the Second Civil and Administrative Chamber of the the Havana Provincial Court, representing Justice Minister Maria Esther Reus González on the administrative claim filed by the attorney Wilfredo Vallín Almeida, based on the silence of the Administration, asserting the right of appeal recognized in the Constitution of the Republic.

In his brief, the Minister’s lawyer described the claim as “nonsensical.” In his opinion, the plaintiff, Mr. Vallín Almeida, chose “a legal wrong way. We do not know for what specific purpose,” he argued. In his view, the President of the Cuban Legal Association should try to gain legal recognition through the Associations Act, without the Ministry of Justice being required to issue anything in writing.

On April 7, 2009, The lawyer Wilfredo Vallín Almeida, president of the Cuban Law Association, a union of dissident lawyers, on behalf of his organization, had asked the Registrar of Associations of MINJUS to certify that there was no Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in the country with the same name and purpose as the association of attorneys.

The state agency never issued the certificate, a document which is essential to continue the legal procedures for setting up the union. In March 2010, the group reiterated its request and received no response. The lawyers, on administrative appeal to the Minister, Reus González, lodged a complaint for breach of the required legal formalities, which was also ignored.

The Law of Civil, Administrative, and Labor Procedure (LPCAL) provides that if the administrative authority at any level of the hierarchy does not resolve an appeal by the legal deadline, or after the expiration of 45 calendar days, then the application shall be considered rejected, with the effect of establishing that implied rejection for the subsequent appeal.

Cañizares Abeledo, appointed by Ministerial Resolution No. 215 on August 6, 2010, alleged that it was impossible to deliver to the court the applicant’s government record, and the administrative decision of the head of Justice relating to the matter raised by the plaintiff, Mr. Vallin Almeida, claiming that the agency had no documents regarding the matter.

Translated by: Tomás A.

September 9. 2010