They can either kills us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens. - Laura Pollán, Lady in White marching in
Seven years ago the news came by phone. A massive round up of Cuban civil society was underway. Independent journalists, human rights activists, and pro-democracy activists were detained their homes searched and ransacked. Independent libraries confiscated and the books burned. This is how the Cuban Black Spring began on March 18, 2003 on the eve of the
The crackdown coincided with the main session of the then United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva which I would attend along with Jannet Rivero for both of us it was our first time attending the session. The days spent there were in constant communication with the Cuban Democratic Directorate in
The show trials began and the harsh sentences pronounced against these activists that Amnesty International would designate prisoners of conscience. Both of us would speak before the plenary session where representatives of the Cuban dictatorship were present along with the rest of the countries of the world and in three minute intervals denounce what was taking place on the island.
I still remember the shock on the faces of the regime’s “diplomats” when the news came of the executions of three young black Cubans at the hands of the dictatorship within hours of their arrest for hijacking a boat in an attempt to flee
They couldn’t believe it, because despite the world’s attention being focused on the war in
Seven years later the Commission is no more, replaced by the United Nations Human Rights Council plagued with even more problems than the old Commission. The international climate is even more hostile to human rights than in 2003. Sadly, a majority of the 75 arrested in 2003 continue to be unjustly imprisoned prisoners of conscience. That is without mentioning the other 225 political prisoners, many imprisoned prior to 2003. Orlando Zapata Tamayo was arrested during the March 2003 crackdown but was not put on trial (although held in prison) until May 2004. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience during his pre-trial detention in January of 2004 – ten months after his arrest after a thorough investigation of his case.
Seven years later on March 18 Ricardo González, Ángel Moya, Normando Hernández, Julio César Gálvez, Oscar Elías Biscet and Regis Iglesias were all engaged in a fast on March 18 as part of a rotating fast they’ve organized from the Combinado de Este prison that began on March 12 and concludes on March 31st. In their communiqué they stated one of their objectives:
United in this act of FAITH.” “All men and women of good will, who want to join us with their fasts, prayers or other supportive initiatives in this spirit of fraternity and solidarity, can join.
I thought of these men unjustly imprisoned for seven years separated from their families, tortured both physically and psychologically for engaging in actions that in any normal country are considered the exercise of their basic rights. It fills me with outrage and frustration thay encourages me to take sustained action on their behalf.
When I read their document
Civic non-violent struggle as exercised by Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the Ladies in White and these prisoners of conscience are all powerful demonstrations of both the power and feasibility of democratic change being driven by non-violence.
The dictatorship now destroying
Yesterday night I visited Miguel Sigler Amaya’s home where a number of Ladies in White had gathered to hold a literary tea and communicate with their counterparts in Havana who had just concluded the fourth day of marching through the streets of Cuba calling for their family members’ freedom. Listening to the Ladies in White in Cuba describe their march through the streets of Cuba and their aspirations for freedom filled me with hope for the future.