Monday, December 10, 2012

International Human Rights Day in Cuba 2012: A look back

 The past year has continued to see a deterioration of human rights in Cuba. It began in January with the terrible news that Wilman Villar Mendoza, another prisoner of conscience, had died while on hunger strike in a Cuban prison demanding that his rights be respected. Unfortunately, Pope Benedict's visit to the island in March coincided with a nationwide crackdown on Cuban dissidents while His Holiness was in Cuba. The aftermath has been even worse. Sergio Díaz Larrastegui, died this past April 19, 2012 at the Julio Trigo Hospital in Arroyo Naranjo in Havana, Cuba. He died in the shadows, under the control of Cuban State Security. Less than three months later, Cuban opposition leader and Catholic Layman Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas along with Harold Cepero from the same movement died under suspicious circumstances that appear to have been provoked by State Security on July 22, 2012. Family and friends are demanding an international investigation into their deaths.

The United Nations conducted a review of torture in Cuba and found much to criticize.

The number of arbitrary detentions in 2012 have skyrocketed compared to previous years. At the beginning of December the number was already at 6,035 detentions.  In November and December of 2012 there were also large scale crackdowns on human rights defenders.

Violence and threats of violence against nonviolent activists and their families continues in Cuba to the present day. An extreme but not atypical example is that of Damaris Moya Portieles who initiated a hunger strike on June 3, 2012 demanding that her 5-year old daughter, Lazara Contreras Moya, be kept safe. This was because state security agents made graphic rape threats to the mother concerning her five year old daughter. The worse of the perpetrators was Eric Francis Aquino Yera. Berenice Héctor González, a 15-year old young woman, suffered a knife attack on November 4, 2012 for supporting the women's human rights movement, The Ladies in White. News of the attack only emerged a month later because State Security had threatened the mother that her daughter would suffer the consequences if she made the assault public. Lady in White Sonia Garro who has on more than one occasion been badly beaten by State Security and her husband have been locked up since March 2012. Unfortunately, when a UN goodwill ambassador visits Cuba to discuss violence against women the above practices by the dictatorship go unaddressed. Dissidents have been beaten up and arrested for addressing national and international bodies.

Conditions in the prisons continue to be dire and nonviolent human rights defenders are housed with murderers. There are new prisoners of conscience in Cuba. For example on November 28, 2012 Cuban labor union activist Ulises González Moreno was sentenced to two years in prison for a "predilection to social dangerousness."

Unfortunately international media on the island has been slow to report on crackdowns taking place and are frequently scooped by independent Cuban journalists on twitter because the news media know, from past experience, that if they report on the opposition and the repression of the dictatorship they their bureaus will be shut down and their journalists expelled. Even the case of a British citizen held in Cuba because he only had a British passport but because he was born in Cuba, the regime refuses to recognize it made the news in The Daily Telegraph because the man's family spoke out. Not a word of this when reporting on migration reforms in the island.

It is feared that the year in Human Rights in Cuba will end as it began with a human rights defender dying on hunger strike due to the cruelty and mistreatment amounting to torture by Cuban officials in the prison. Calixto Ramon Martinez who reported on the cholera outbreak and was detained on September 16, 2012 after exposing Cuban government culpability in the deterioration of medicines sent to the island by the World Health Organization (WHO) has now been on hunger strike for 30 days protesting his unjust imprisonment. According to Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez, the independent journalist is being denied water in order to pressure him into ending his hunger strike. This type of practice is believed to have contributed to the death of Wilman Villar Mendoza earlier this year and to the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23, 2010.

The arrests with violence of over a 100 activists on the eve of International Human Rights day under the pretext that human rights defenders is a somber harbinger of what will be witnessed on December 10, 2012.

The evidence is self-evident these are not isolated human rights violations but a systematic pattern of repression to violate the human rights of all Cubans and human rights defenders in particular.

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