14ymedio, Martha Beatriz Roque, Havana, 11 July 2015 — What classifies as a political prisoner is a cause for disagreement among the Cuban opposition. There are varying opinions about who has been jailed for political reasons or not, despite the criteria established by the United Nations and other organizations that concern themselves with these matters.
There are several lists of political prisoners compiled by various organizations circulating in and outside of Cuba. Said lists do not come from any specific dissident groups, but rather from individuals who publicize them. I unsuccessfully tried for all parties to agree on one list. Unfortunately, some individuals who have control over the names of political prisoners refuse to even listen to what others who made their own lists have to say.
Then we also have several groups of lawyers who do not actively contribute to lists of political prisoners, and who do not endorse the ones we have now either.
When the Cuban government wants a dissident off the streets, it accuses him or her of any crime. Moreover, when an officer of the law beats an opposition figure, the victim ends up accused of assault. Nevertheless, there have been cases in which opposition members were considered political prisoners when their incarcerations have had nothing to do with their political activities.
Twice in recent months, Jaime Cardinal Ortega y Alamino has stated that there are no political prisoners in Cuba. However, he later asked for lists of names of those who might now be incarcerated for political reasons to be forwarded to him. Due to the lack of consensus among the opposition, by now Cardinal Ortega must have several lists, including some containing names of individuals who have committed crimes not even remotely linked to the internal opposition movement, nor whose objective has been the nonviolent democratization of the country.
Several people have spent too many years in jail, and should be freed. Others have been given excessive sentences forbidding them from earning any privileges during their incarceration. These individuals should be classified separately from political prisoners, although we should still advocate for them. We should also continue speaking up for those on the list of prisoners with shorter sentences, namely those unjustly jailed for supposedly having a “special proclivity to commit crimes,” or “dangerousness.”
The Cuban government has never wanted to accept the existence of political prisoners in the country. It wants dissidents to be perceived as common criminals, mercenaries, terrorists, or anything else that would discredit both them and their oppositional activities. Its objective is to multiply political prisoners by zero.
In order to demonstrate how vitally important it is to come to an agreement on the lists of political prisoners and draw up only one that would have the approval of all the opposition, several inquiries have been conducted. We have contacted leaders of organizations, relatives, dissidents, and even some of the individuals whose names appear on the lists. Regardless of all the hard work, we have not always gotten the necessary responses nor reached any real conclusions due to a lack of understanding. Therefore, a commission should be created to analyze each case individually by evaluating the testimonies of witnesses and relatives.
The objective of the information below is not meant to disparage the work of any organization, and much less to belittle any prisoner. Only when we finally understand the importance of collective analysis, can we then reach an appropriate conclusion. I am sure that after each case is closely examined, we will all realize how important it is for us to work together.
It cannot be ruled out that there are no other prisoners jailed for political crimes just because they do not appear on any lists we examined. Cuba’s authorities do not allow access to prison statistics.
I wish to thank the support of the members of the Cuban Network of Community Correspondents (Red Cubana de Comunicadores Comunitarios), without whom it would have been impossible to gather the following data. I would also like to thank in particular Arnaldo Ramos Laururique, member of the Group of 75 and prisoner of conscience.
List of Political Prisoners Gathered from Several Different Organizations:
Coalition of the Opposition of Central Cuba (Damarys Moya Portieles, president)
- Léster Castillo Rodríguez, sentenced on August 24, 2015 to one year for “dangerousness.”
- Deibis Sardiñas Moya, sentenced on June 26, 2014 to three years for “dangerousness.”
United Anti-Totalitarian Front (Guillermo “Coco” Fariñas, president)
- Joel Bencomo Rodríguez (not Díaz, as he appears on another list), sentenced on October 1, 2014 to two years for the crime of “disrespect.” The police have tried transferring him to a forced labor camp, but Mr. Bencomo refuses to budge.
- Justo Miguel Fariñas Quey, sentenced on May 8, 2014 to six months in jail plus six months house arrest for his role in thwarting José Alberto Botel Cárdenas’ attempt on Guillermo Fariñas’ life. His sentence was made public before the last list was completed on June 19th. Still, his sentence was not noted.
- Librado Linares, president of the Cuban Reflection Movement, and member of the Group of 75.
- Yoelsi Llorente Bermúdez, Óscar Luis Santana López, and Miguel Ernesto Armenteros Hernández have been incarcerated since May 16th, waiting trial for “attempting against the State and resisting authority.” After these four individuals were expelled by the police from a discothèque in the town of Santa Isabel de las Lajas, about a hundred people gathered in the town’s main park for a spontaneous protest. All were arrested. Of the hundred, forty were given summonses ranging from thirty to fifty Cuban pesos.
- There are five prisoners in the Cienfuegos Province’s Ariza Prison.
- Vladimir Morera Bacallao was transferred to Havana’s National Hospital after ending his hunger strike. He was arrested during the April 2015 municipal elections for putting a sign in front of his home that read “I vote for freedom!” Mr. Morera’s trial is still pending.
The Opposition Movement for a New Republic [MONR]
- José Díaz Silva, the organization’s president, expressed to Jorge Bello Domínguez from the Cuban Network of Community Correspondents that the person who appears on the list as a political prisoner from his organization, Job Lemus Fonseca, no longer belongs to his group. Mr. Lemus had been ousted from the MONR, and the crime he is accused of is non-political.
Patriotic Union of Cuba [UNPACU] (José Daniel Ferrer, president)
There are fourteen discrepancies in the lists of prisoners associated with UNPACU:
- Edilberto Arzuaga Alcalá, was sentenced to one year on February 15, 2015. He had been fined five thousand Cuban pesos for drawing graffiti in the town of Santa Cruz del Sur, Camagüey Province. Arzuaga refused to pay the fine. After protesting in front of Santa Cruz del Sur’s Poder Popular*, [People’s Power] Mr. Arzuaga was arrested.
- Ariel Eugenio Arzuaga Peña, was sentenced to six years for “attempting against the State.” UNPACU did not exist at that time, so it would be ianccurate to classify him as a prisoner of this organization. At the time of Arzuaga’s imprisonment on March 17, 2011, UNPACU’s president José Daniel Ferrer was also incarcerated. Therefore, Mr. Ferrer does not have any personal knowledge of the charges brought against Mr. Arzuaga, although he does have testimonies from the group “Factors for Change,” and other sources. Mr. Arzuaga is currently held at the San Blas forced labor camp in Granma Province. San Blas is what the government calls a “plan confianza,” or “confidence-building strategy.”**
- María del Carmen Calá Aguilera was arrested on April 24, 2015 in Holguín Province. Ms. Calá was accused of “attempting against the State” after insulting the doctor responsible for the death of her son, a non-political prisoner who died in jail from negligence.
- Darián Ernesto Dufó Preval, Ricardo Pelier Frómeta and Yoelkis Rosabal Flores, were detained on May 15, 2014, in the town of Caimanera, Guantánamo Province, accused of “conspiracy to commit murder” after staging a sit-in demanding the release of Johane Arce. Some lists incorrectly state “they are still pending trial,” but these four men have already been tried and convicted for “incessant disorderly conduct.” Mr. Dufó was sentenced to two years of incarceration, Mr. Pelier to three, and Mr. Rasabal to four.
- Yuselín Ferrera Espinosa was arrested on September 24, 2014, and sentenced to one year of incarceration for “causing injury to another person.” As Mr. Ferrera was enjoying a recording of the hip-hop duo Los Aldeanos, a member of the Communist Party ripped the cables off his sound system. There were no injuries, nor any medical documentation stating the contrary.
- Mario Ronaide Figueroa Diéguez incorrectly appears on a list as having been arrested on December 2, 2012. According to UNPACU president José Daniel Ferrer, the exact day of Mr. Figueroa’s detention –along with ten other activists– was November 27, 2012. The political police told them that if they left UNPACU they would be released. Mr. Figueroa accepted the offer, yet was rearrested at the beginning of December of 2014. The rest of the group appeared on the list of 53 prisoners that was shown to the government of the United States.
- Aracelio Ribeaux Noa was arrested in the town of Playa de Aguadores, Santiago de Cuba Province, accused of “physically assaulting prison guards.” According to the list, Mr. Ribeaux has been jailed since November 27, 2012. However, he had been freed on January 8, 2015 along with the rest of the group of 53 announced by the Cuban government. Mr. Ribeaux was an UNPACU member when guards of the Vigilance and Protection Corps caught him drawing graffiti. He refused to leave with them, but a few days later, a retired major from the Ministry of the Interior bayoneted Mr. Ribeaux, injuring his hand. He was taken to the hospital, where a few days later the political police sent him a message ordering Mr. Ribeaux not to press charges against the retired major, but he responded that he had already done so. He was then arrested in May. The authorities told Mr. Ribeaux that if he abandoned UNPACU and dropped the charges against the former Interior Ministry official, he would be freed. There are no official documents charging Mr. Ribeaux with any crime.
- Emilio Serrano Rodríguez, incarcerated since February 7, 2015, is accused of “illegal commercial transactions” (he is not an “independent salesman” as the list says), and is still awaiting trial. An UNPACU member, Mr. Serrano had come to the defense of two Havana women who were licensed street merchants as the police were harassing them. These women, Sonia de la Caridad Mejías and Melkis Faure Echavarría, were at that time members of UNPACU.
- Carlos Manuel Veranes Heredia, from the town of Caimanera, Guantánamo Province, was sentenced to one year incarceration on May 17, 2015. He is still being held at the provincial jail. Mr. Veranes was first informed he had no charges pending, yet one year later was arrested, given a summary trial with no defense lawyer, and convicted for the crime of “disrespect.”
- Amado Verdecia Díaz, has been imprisoned since October 20, 2014. The police began harassing him in August 2013 by informing him that his driver’s license had expired. When Mr. Verdecia proved them wrong, the police told him that his problem was his poor driving skills. He was then arrested during a protest in the city of Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba Province, but was later released thanks to the pressure of UNPACU activists. Ten months later, Mr. Verdecia was arrested, tried, and sentenced to five years for “attempting against the State.” According to UNPACU’s José Daniel Ferrer, Mr. Verdecia’s crime was volunteering his car for the organization’s needs.
- Santiago Cisneros Castellanos, a peasant and member of UNPACU, went to a store on July 21, 2014 to buy the bread ration allotted to him. When he arrived he was informed that all the bread was gone, and he responded that he was going to file an official complaint. His local delegate to the “Poder Popular” accused Mr. Cisneros of being a counter-revolutionary and told him that bread was meant only for revolutionaries. When he arrived to file his complaint at the offices of citizens’ services in the town of Cruce de los Baños, Santiago de Cuba Province, Mr. Cisneros was arrested and accused of the “attempted murder” of his local “Poder Popular” delegate, and for “possessing a firearm.” His trial took place on June 15,, 2015, and his sentencing is still pending. Mr. Cisneros does not appear on any list because those who have compiled them do not believe his crime is political in nature.
- Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros has been incarcerated in Camagüey Province’s Cerámica Roja Prison since January 8, 2015, the same day as the group of 53 was released. Mr. Arostegui is accused of “attempting against the State” and “menacing.” Although he has a history of being treated for psychiatric disorders, Mr. Arostegui owns a horse and a cart he used to distribute UNPACU leaflets. The authorities organized an act of repudiation in front of his home, pelting it with excrement. As is the case with Santiago Cisneros Castellanos, Mr. Arostegui does not appear on any list.
- Eglis Heredia Rodríguez was returned to prison to complete a sentence of eight years and six months, with the right to occasional supervised visits home. According to UNPACU president José Daniel Ferrer, Mr. Eredia’s sentence is not related to his role in the opposition, as is stated on a list. Mr. Eredia is not a political prisoner, but he did join UNPACU upon being released from jail. He was serving a sentence for burglary with forced entry.
Democratic Alliance of Eastern Cuba (Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, president)
- Yeris Curbelo Aguilera was incarcerated for three years for “disrespect and disobedience.” He has been serving his sentence in Guantánamo Province’s Combinado Prison since February 19, 2015.
The Juan Wilfredo Soto García Human Rights Movement
- René Rouco Machín, the organization’s president, appears on one list as serving a sentence for “disrespect” since August 4, 2014, and on another as serving four years for “attempting against the State.” Independent journalist Daniel González Oliva reports that Mr. Rouco is serving both sentences. On December 17, 2014, two officials from State Security paid him a visit at the Escalona Forced Labor Camp. Mr. Rouco refused to speak with them, still he was forced to meet with the officials, where they proceeded to beat him and break his arm. Mr. Rouco was subsequently accused of “attempting against the State,” and sentenced to four more years.
The José Martí Current
- Rolando Joaquín Guerra Pérez is an opposition member and leader of The José Martí Current. According to one of the lists, while attempting to leave Cuba on a flimsy vessel, he was intercepted by the United States Coast Guard on November 6, 2012, and then repatriated. Mr. Guerra was awaiting trial for larceny, but escaped from the Canasí forced labor camp where he was being held. A few months ago, and without even informing his relatives, Mr. Guerra was tried, found guilty of several offenses, and sentenced to six years. He is currently housed in in the prison of the town of Melena del Sur, Mayabeque Province.
- Juana Castillo Acosta, her husband Osvaldo Rodríguez Acosta, and her son Osvaldo Rodríguez Castillo were found guilty of “attempting against the State,” although some lists accuse them of “attempting to murder police.” Mrs. Castillo was originally given five years. She was mistakenly listed as serving her sentence under house arrest. Mrs. Castillo’s sentence was actually commuted to a forced labor facility she can commute to from home. Her husband, Osvaldo Rodríguez Acosta was sentenced to nine years, and her son Osvaldo Rodríguez Castillo to seven. Currently, the son is being allowed occasional supervised visits home.
- Ricardo Hernández Ruiz belongs –according to one list– to an organization that no longer exists, Camagüey Unity. Virgilio Mantilla, who was the organization’s president, says he has no connection with the prisoner, who also does not belong to any opposition group. José Luis S. Varona, a dissident nicknamed “Pescao” (Fish), stated that Mr. Hernández is being held in a forced labor camp in Camagüey Province. According to Daysa Durán Galano of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement of Camagüey, Mr. Hernández tried to leave the country illegally through Guantánamo Province in order to reach the U.S. Naval Base. Five people who are now free accompanied him.
- Yosvani Melchor Rodríguez is a young man who returned to Cuba illegally after having lived in the United States for one year. He was sentenced to twelve years of incarceration for human trafficking. Mr. Rodríguez’s codefendent, Jorge Luis Sánchez Carcassés from Santiago de Cuba, is now free. Mr. Melchor’s mother, Rosa María Rodriguez reported that her son is mentally retarded and is not a member of the Christian Liberation Movement. He is currently incarcerated in the Toledo 1 Prison, has been allowed to return home twice on supervised visits, and is waiting to be paroled.
- Mauricio Noa Maceo has been incarcerated since August 6, 2010 for “‘ideological diversionism (divisionism),’ illegal economic activity, and accepting stolen property,” according to the information on one of the lists. Mr. Noa was tried on December 9, 2014 and was sentenced to three years imprisonment after having served more than four years. He is supposedly waiting for his appeals trial, but the deadline has passed. A prisoner only has a few days after a trial to appeal, and the bench has 45 days to respond.
- Santiago Roberto Montes de Oca Rodríguez appears on several lists. Mr. Montes de Oca is simply classified as an “activist” without specifying to what organization he belongs.
- Ángel Santiesteban Prats, a writer, does not appear on all the lists, although he is certain he submitted all his documentation, and that on February 26, 2013 –two days before reporting to prison– Amnesty International contacted him to confirm that he was indeed a prisoner of conscience. Currently there are those who doubt that Mr. Santiesteban is a political prisoner. He was sentenced to five years of incarceration for trespassing and causing bodily harm.
There are other persons who should appear on the lists since their legal status have yet to be clarified. For instance, take the case of Egberto Ángel Escobedo Morales. He was imprisoned on July 11, 1995 to a term of twenty years for “espionage, enemy propaganda, and stealing secret military counterintelligence documents.” Mr. Morales was released on December 29, 2010, after a 75-day hunger strike. First he was informed he had been pardoned, but then was told that due his improper behavior, he was just being paroled. He has yet to receive an official document signed off by a judge.
*Literally, “The People’s Power.” The local Communist Party government offices.
** A “reeducation” forced labor camp.
Translated by José Badué