Monday, July 30, 2012

Petition Demanding International and Transparent Investigation into the deaths of Paya and Cepero

"I'm not going to accept the version the government's giving. In no way do I accept it." - Ofelia Acevedo, Oswaldo Paya's widow

On July 22, 2012 Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, founder and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement and Harold Cepero Escalante, member of the cited movement, lost their lives on the Las Tunas-Bayamo highway, in the island of Cuba. In the wrecked car traveled together with them, Ángel Francisco Carromero and Jens Aron Modig, Spanish and Swedish citizens respectively.

In the absence of official information to clarify to the families of the deceased the truth of the accident that killed Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, we ask, as required by respect for truth and the duty of care to the pain of the victims of this tragic event, to proceed in the shortest possible to make known the truth of what happened.

In the words of Ofelia Acevedo, widow of Oswaldo Payá, founder and new leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, the families of the two dead dissidents do not look for the guilty, but for the truth. We join this claim and demand the opening of a transparent investigation conducted by an international organization whose sole purpose is the pursuit of truth.

Only in this manner can the contradictions that from the outset have surrounded the deaths of Payá Sardiñas and Cepero Escalante dissipate. We also ask, according to international law and the most basic duties of justice to be met by any government in the world that the process of inquiry into the truth of the death of Payá Sardiñas and Cepero Escalante, guarantee the Spanish and Swedish citizens that traveled aboard the wrecked car, care and fair legal defense and according to law.

Original Spanish text of the petition and form to add your name available here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas in his own words

"They have told me that they will kill me before this regime ends, but I will not flee." - Oswaldo Paya

Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas

The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: ‘You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together’. - Oswaldo Paya, December 17, 2002

We now know that any method or model which purportedly aims to achieve justice, development, and efficiency but takes precedence over the individual or cancels out any of the fundamental rights leads to a form of oppression and to exclusion and is calamitous for the people. - Oswaldo Paya, December 17, 2002

We wish to express our solidarity with all those who suffer from any form of oppression and injustice, and with those in the world who have been silenced or marginalized. - Oswaldo Paya, December 17, 2002

The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized. - Oswaldo Paya, December 17, 2002

It's obviously a matter of shame that our land is being used for that purpose, having foreign prisoners brought to Cuba. Even if they are terrorists they deserve respect. Their human rights should be respected. - Oswaldo Paya, December 18, 2002 (on arrival of Taliban prisoners to Guantanamo )

There is a real “moral inversion,” in what the foreign media, intellectual circles, ecclesiastical circles, diplomats and politicians are doing against the people of Cuba and against the dissident right now. They judge the persecuted, the poor, those who are silenced, but they do not dare to judge the government. - Oswaldo Paya, October 3, 2011

As a Cuban, I am not a tourist or someone who is living in a glass case, I eat in a workers’ canteen, I relate to doctors, nurses, patients. My coworkers, whom I love and I’m proud to work with, despite having the state security watching me. I walk down these streets with my colleagues and friends, my neighbors. I know how Cubans feel, and they want a new life, they want freedom, they want rights.  - Oswaldo Paya, October 3, 2011

We thank all those heroes who on one day were abducted from their homes unjustly imprisoned solely for defending human rights. The people of Cuba and all who love justice must be grateful to those Cubans who have been symbols of dignity and hope shining from the shadows.  - Oswaldo Paya, October 7, 2010

As John Paul II said: we have to be the protagonists of our history. Liberation is a task for the Cuban people – now with greater hope because we are definitely on the verge, on the threshold of truth and liberation. That is our hope." - Oswaldo Paya, March 29, 2012

We denounce all those governments and states in this continent and in the world together with the many institutions and persons that prefer a harmonious relationship with lies and oppression than  open solidarity with the Cuban people. All are complicit with what is happening and what will happen. - Oswaldo Paya, March 2, 2010

"It is not up to the U.S. to bring about changes in Cuba. Nor is it up to the U.S. businessmen who say that by doing business here they will bring change. Nor is it up to U.S. tourists. And I say this to those who say that U.S. tourists will bring changes to Cuba. The Spaniards and Canadians haven't done so. Moreover, that's an insult to the Cuban people. Changes will not be made by tourists drinking daiquiris and mojitos, strolling through our beaches and staying in hotels that Cubans can't stay in." - Oswaldo Paya

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Killing the future?: The Suspicious Death of Oswaldo Paya

The death of Oswaldo Paya has all the signs of a State Security operation

Burial of Oswaldo Paya today in Cuba

Oswaldo Paya's family has reported that he and the other three passengers in the car were forced off the road deliberately and that this led to the deaths of the two Cuban passengers riding in the vehicle. There is a long track record that demonstrates that the regime practices this type of tactic with individuals it does not want around.

Since Raul Castro took over from his brother in 2006 a lethal shift in tactics has been observed. As recently as 2003 Fidel Castro had presided over sending innocent men to 25 and 28 year prison sentences for organizing a petition drive while threatening to have them executed before a firing squad. Seventy Five new prisoners of conscience gave birth to a new formidable opponent in March of 2003, the Ladies in White.

It appears that the lessons drawn by Raul Castro and first learned by Cuban State Security when being formed and trained by the brutal and effective East German Stasi is that instead of long term prison sentences continuous harassment, short term prison sentences, "accidents" organized to liquidate dissidents and the occasional brutal killing to strike fear into the populace.  Its not to say that Fidel Castro back in the 1960s and as recently as 1994 and 1996 respectively did not organize intelligence operations to kill innocent Cubans.  The July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo"tugboat massacre and the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down are but two examples of the regime's brutality with a body count stretches back 53 years.

Further evidence that the "car accident" was a premeditated act arranged for Oswaldo Paya was that this was not the first time; the regime had also tried with another vehicle 20 days earlier while he was in Havana. In addition we know that an attempt was made against Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan and captured on the video below at 7 minutes and 27 seconds.

It is not only Cubans that are targeted. A U.S. diplomat Robin Meyers was subjected to cars being used against her as weapons by state security agents on the eve and day of the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown February 23-24, 1996 The Miami Herald reported on it on November 24, 1996 after she had been expelled from the country by the Cuban regime:
On Friday, Feb. 23, she was driving home from the U.S. interests section when a white Soviet-built Lada nearly sideswiped her car. She wrote off the near-miss to faulty brakes. Then it happened again. And again. She doubled back to the mission and had a U.S. security agent escort her home.
The next day, she left for work, comfortably sandwiched between two U.S. escort cars. But another Lada, stuffed with her now-familiar baby sitters, tried to break into the chain of cars. She fled through an intersection on a changing light. The Lada tried to follow but was too late, and was slammed by an oncoming car.
As mentioned earlier the East German Stasi trained the Cuban State Security service known as "G2" and one of its standard tactics was arranging car accidents. Not only in East Germany but in West Germany as well as was the case with Lutz Eigendorf an East German soccer player who defected to the West on March 20, 1979 and died in a mysterious car accident on March 5, 1983. Wolfgang Welsch a critic of the East German regime was subjected to three attempts on his life the second being a "car accident." These strange car accidents also took place in other countries of the East Bloc for instance on December 1, 1984 two police men investigating the murder of a solidarity priest in Poland died in a car crash.  A car accident was set up to kill another Solidarity priest, Jerzy Popiełuszko on October 13, 1984, but he escaped it, only to later be kidnapped beaten, tortured and killed by three state security officers on October 19, 1984. His body was dumped in a reservoir and recovered on October 30, 1984.

The deaths of Laura Pollan by a mysterious illness and what amounted to purposeful medical neglect in October of 2011 and now the suspicious death of Oswaldo Paya should tell opinion makers around the world the Castro brothers maybe killing Cuba's future in order to hang on to power today. Remaining silent before these crimes and possible crimes is to be complicit. A transparent international investigation is needed into the circumstances that led to the deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Wake in Cuba and Vigil in Miami for Oswaldo Payá

Coffin of Oswaldo Payá arrives at the El Salvador del Mundo church in the Cerro in Havana. Photo / Orlando Luis Pardo

About 400 people received the mortal remains of Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Paya with a standing ovation and applause that lasted for ten minutes in the parish of Havana where the wake started for the prominent activist, who will be buried Tuesday.

In an atmosphere charged with emotion and between shouts of "Vivas" for Paya and the "Varela Project", the chapel of Paya was installed in the parish of El Salvador del Mundo, in the neighborhood of the Cerro and was the Church  which
Payá used to attend regularly. There waited for several hours the family of the deceased, friends, the main representatives of the dissidents on the island and several diplomats for the coffin to arrive.

The auxiliary bishop of Havana, Juan Hernandez, officiated a dirge in memory of the late opposition leader and many of the attendees shouted "freedom" after singing the Cuban national anthem. Paya's widow, Ofelia Acevedo, took the floor to thank the support of the audience but asked for silence and prayer in the last goodbye to Paya.

According to religious sources, Cardinal Jaime Ortega will officiate at the funeral for Oswaldo Paya  tomorrow morning and that will be followed by burial at Colon Cemetery in Havana.

During the wake for Oswaldo Paya cries of "freedom" also erupted inside the Church and were tweeted onto the internet.

Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia and Jesus Mustafa Felipe pay their respects
In Hialeah tonight members of the Christian Liberation Movement organized a vigil for Oswaldo Paya and MCL youth leader Harold Cepero. Family members, including Oswaldo Paya's older brother, were also present. Former prisoners of conscience imprisoned in 2003 for their role as organizers of the Varela Project were also on hand to pay their respects.

Antonio Diaz Sanchez and José Martínez Hernández pay their respects along with their families.
In Miami and in Spain there will also be services held in memory of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero. A Mass will be held for them in Miami at Our Lady of Charity, in 3609 South Miami Ave., Miami, FL 33133 at 8pm tonight EST (Tuesday). In Spain it will be at 8:40pm local time in the Church of  San Fermin de los Navarros, in P Eduardo Dato, 10 28010 Madrid.

Text translated with minor changes and additions from Libertad Digital on events in Havana:

Letter from Lech Wałęsa on death of Oswaldo Paya

Lech Walesa sends letter of condolence for Oswaldo Paya

Lech Wałęsa

The city of Gdansk, the July 23, 2012

Christian Liberation Movement
Havana, Cuba

Dear Friends:

No words can express the pain I felt when I learned of the sudden death of one of the leading democratic activists, the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas - my friend.

Oswaldo Paya will remain in my memory as a man of courage, determination and extraordinary fighting spirit. He was one of the most important voices of freedom in Cuba - and therefore incessantly spoke of the need to initiate political and economic reforms and to recognize the general human rights of every person. Oswaldo was confident that these changes may arise in a peaceful way and demanded that the entire Cuban nation participate in this process. On more than one occasion he made ​​reference in his letters that Solidarity and Poland's history as an indicator for him. I wrote that in the difficult path towards democracy faith is very important, it is almost the certainty that the struggle that one is developing, will bring success. The harsh experiences - repression, harassment, humiliations, and misunderstandings often faced by Oswaldo, have failed to kill in him this belief in the victory.

We have never had the opportunity to meet personally, but every time I exchanged correspondence, I expressed my hope that the moment would arrive when we shake hands in his homeland. Unfortunately this day is not going to arrive, I, however, have the hope that I will be able to stand in the cemetery in Cuba, saying goodbye to my friend and pay him the honor of a great and wise man who has been Oswaldo Paya.

I join in sorrow with His Family and those close to him and with my constant prayer in these difficult days.

Original letter in Spanish sent to the Christian Liberation Movement.

Lech Wałęsa

La ciudad de Gdańsk, el 23 de Julio de 2012

Movimiento Cristiano de Liberación
Habana, Cuba

Queridos Amigos:

No encuentro palabras para expresar el dolor que he sentido al enterarme de la repentina muerte de uno de los más importantes activistas democráticos, el fundador del Movimiento Cristiano de Liberación, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas – mi Amigo.

Oswaldo Payá va a quedar en mi memoria como un hombre de valentía, determinación y espíritu de lucha extraordinarios. Fue una de las voces de libertad más importantes en Cuba – incesablemente y consecuentemente hablaba de la necesidad de iniciar las reformas políticas y económicas y de reconocer los derechos humanos generales de cada persona. Oswaldo confiaba en que estos cambios pueden surgir en vía pacífica y reclamaba a que en este proceso participe toda la Nación Cubana. No una vez hacia referencia en sus cartas que la Solidaridad y la historia de Polonia son un indicador para él. Yo escribía que en el difícil camino hacia la democracia la fe es de suma importancia, casi es la certeza sobre que la lucha que uno está desarrollando, va a traer éxito. Las experiencias duras - las represiones, los acosos, las vejaciones, frecuentemente la incomprensión que enfrentaba Oswaldo, no han logrado matar en él a esta convicción sobre la victoria.

Nunca hemos tenido la ocasión de conocernos personalmente, aunque cada vez que intercambiabamos la correspondencia, yo expresaba mi esperanza sobre que va a llegar el momento cuando nos estrechemos las manos en su Tierra Patria. Lamentablemente este día ya no va a llegar; yo, sin embargo, tengo la esperanza de que voy a tener la posibilidad de pararme en el cementerio en Cuba, despedirme de mi Amigo y rendirle el honor a un hombre grande y sabio que ha sido Oswaldo Payá.

Me uno en el dolor con Su Familia y Sus cercanos y aseguro de mi oración incesante en estos días tan difíciles.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Oswaldo Paya: Cuban human rights defender dies under mysterious circumstances

"They have told me that they will kill me before this regime ends, but I will not flee." - Oswaldo Paya

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas: February 29, 1952 – July 22, 2012

Born in 1952, Oswaldo Paya became a critic of the communist government of Cuba in 1969 at age 17 and remained so for the rest of his life. He was a founding member and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement. He had been warned by state security that he would not live to see the end of the Castro regime. He died this Sunday, July 22, 2012 in a "car accident" along with Christian Liberation Movement youth leader, Harold Cepero.

The Christian Liberation Movement (CLM )has issued a formal statement requesting a formal and transparent investigation. At the same time the CLM requests that all friends in solidarity with the freedom of Cubans maintain their alertness and support the demand for a proper investigation into the deaths of these activists. 

I was honored to have spoken with Oswaldo Paya on a couple of occasions and to have met many who walked the streets of Cuba with him gathering signatures for the Varela Project and who later became prisoners of conscience. Oswaldo was a good and decent man who sacrificed all for a free Cuba. News of his death is devastating both personally and for the free Cuba movement.

In December of 2002 following diplomatic pressure placed on the dictatorship by the European Union to permit him to travel abroad to receive the Sakharov Prize where he made an acceptance speech, of which the following is an excerpt:
We have not chosen the path of peace as a tactic, but because it is inseparable from the goal for which our people are striving. Experience teaches us that violence begets more violence and that when political change is brought about by such means, new forms of oppression and injustice arise. It is our wish that violence and force should never be used as ways of overcoming crises or toppling unjust governments. This time we shall bring about change by means of this civic movement which is already opening a new chapter in Cuba’s history, in which dialogue, democratic involvement, and solidarity will prevail. In such a way we shall foster genuine peace. Cuba’s civic combatant heroes – the ordinary people who have signed the Varela Project – carry no weapons. Not a single hand is armed. We walk with both arms outstretched, offering our hands to all Cubans as brothers and sisters, and to all peoples of the world.

The first victory we can claim is that our hearts are free of hatred. Hence we say to those who persecute us and who try to dominate us: ‘You are my brother. I do not hate you, but you are not going to dominate me by fear. I do not wish to impose my truth, nor do I wish you to impose yours on me. We are going to seek the truth together’. THIS IS THE LIBERATION WHICH WE ARE PROCLAIMING.

There are still those who perpetuate the myth that the exercising of political and civil rights is an alternative to a society’s ability to achieve social justice and development. They are not mutually exclusive. The absence of any civil and political rights in Cuba has had serious consequences such as inequality, the poverty of the majority and privileges of a minority and the deterioration of certain services, even though these were conceived as a positive system to benefit the people. In this way, although many Cubans have for years worked out of love and in good faith, the situation as regards civil and political rights is now serious, quite apart from a widening inequality and the deterioration in the quality of life of the majority of the population. Among other things, the freedom of action of the citizens of Cuba has been limited, which has neutralized their huge potential for creativity and productiveness and is the main reason for the country’s poverty.

This state of affairs cannot be justified by saying that the Cuban people have adopted this system out of choice. You all know that none of the peoples represented in this Parliament, and no people in the world, would ever give up the right to exercise their fundamental freedoms.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that well-being and economic and social progress are the fruits of being able to exercise one’s rights. In the same way, a democracy is not genuine and complete if it cannot initiate and sustain a process that raises the quality of life of all its citizens, because no people would freely vote for the kind of poverty and inequality that results in the masses becoming disadvantaged and marginalized. The peoples of Latin America are calling for a genuine democracy which will enable justice to be established. It is scandalous that methods intended to overcome a crisis and end poverty can be applied in the name of efficiency when in reality they threaten to obliterate the poor. I cannot claim to herald new positions or propose new models, but the people of Cuba have lived and suffered under various political and economic systems.

We now know that any method or model which purportedly aims to achieve justice, development, and efficiency but takes precedence over the individual or cancels out any of the fundamental rights leads to a form of oppression and to exclusion and is calamitous for the people. We wish to express our solidarity with all those who suffer from any form of oppression and injustice, and with those in the world who have been silenced or marginalized.

The cause of human rights is a single cause, just as the people of the world are a single people. The talk today is of globalization, but we must state that unless there is global solidarity, not only human rights but also the right to remain human will be jeopardized. If there is no solidarity between people we will be unable to preserve a fair world in which it is possible to continue living as human beings. I therefore humbly believe that rather than new models, both for societies and for relations between countries, what we need is a new spirit.

 Oswaldo Paya returned to Cuba after this and continued the struggle for a free Cuba until this Sunday, July 22, 2012.

Following the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23, 2010 Oswaldo addressed the murdered human rights defender in an open letter: "Orlando Zapata Tamayo, dear brother, we will continue the fight, without hatred, but determined that until Cuba is free and Cubans are no longer suffering this shameful humiliation that is to live subdued by fear to a lie."

The struggle for freedom in Cuba continues. Condolences for the family of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and prayers for them and him.

Cuba: Arrest of human rights defenders and members of the Damas de Blanco Laura Pollán and denial of the right to freedom of assembly

On 18 July 2012, Ms Tatiana López Blanco, Ms Leonor Reinó Borge, Ms Mirta Gómez Colás and Ms Niurkis Rivero Despaigne were detained by Department of State Security agents in Havana.
The aforementioned human rights defenders are all members of the prominent human rights organisation Damas de Blanco Laura Pollán(Ladies in White), which advocates for the release of political prisoners in Cuba.
On 18 July 2012, agents of the Department of State Security went to the homes of Tatiana López Blanco, Leonor Reinó Borge, Mirta Gómez Colás and Niurkis Rivero Despaigne and arrested them in order to prevent them from participating in the monthly Té Literario (literary tea party) organised by the Damas de Blanco which takes place at the home of their deceased leader Ms Laura Pollán.

Previously on 16 July 2012 it was reported that an agent had visited the homes of other members of the human rights organisation, including Ms Ivonne Malleza Galano, nominee for the 2012 Front Line Defenders Award for human rights defenders at risk, Magaly Norvis Otero, Mercedes Fresneda Castillo, Belkis Jorrín Morfa, Belkis Nuñez Fajardo, Raquel Castillo, Zahira Castro and Mayra Morejón, to inform them that the Té Literario would not be permitted to take place and that should they attempt to attend it they would be arrested and held for three days. Ms Omaglis Gonzaléz Leiva and Ms María Elena Matos were detained in Palmarito de Cauto, in the municipality of Santiago de Cuba as they attempted to hold a parallel event.

Front Line Defenders believes that the arrests of the aforementioned human rights defenders, as well as the threats of arrest, are directly related to their legitimate work in defence of human rights. The regular prevention of the peaceful monthly Té Literario by police, who block off access to the home of Laura Pollán on the date of the planned event, constitutes a clear denial of the right to freedom of assembly in Cuba. Members of the Damas de Blanco continue to face harassment and physical attacks from police around the island as they attempt to carry out their legitimate and peaceful human rights activities.

Amnesty International: Protesters held without charge since March 2012

Two Ladies in White and the husband of one them has been unjustly imprisoned since March 2012 and Amnesty International has issued an urgent action on their behalf.

Document - Cuba: Protesters detained without charge

UA: 215/12 Index: AMR 25/018/2012 Cuba Date: 18 July 2012
Ladies in White Niurka Luque Álvarez and Sonia Garro Alfonso, and Sonia’s husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, are believed to have been detained without charge since March.

On 17 March in the Cuban capital, Havana, the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) were demonstrating peacefully to commemorate the anniversary of the 2003 crackdown on dissidents, when 18 of them were arrested and taken to police stations across the city. All but Niurka Luque Álvarez, were released a few hours later.

The following day, Lady in White Sonia Garro Alfonso, and her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, were arrested at their home in Havana: around 50 police forced their way into the house and fired rubber bullets at them. According to her sister, Sonia Garro Alfonso was wounded in the foot by one of these bullets.

Since then the two women have been sent to various detention centres, and are now held in Guatao women's prison in the outskirts of Havana. Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González is being held in Havana's Combinado del Este prison. Both women are reported to be in poor health. Sonia Garro Alfonso was suffering a kidney problem before her arrest that may require surgery. According to her daughter, Niurka Luque Álvarez regularly suffers epileptic fits. The women are allowed visits every week, and Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González every two weeks.

Although all three have access to a lawyer, it is not clear what they have been charged with. Relatives told Amnesty International that the authorities have accused Sonia Garro Alfonso of attempted murder and public disorder, but none of them has been formally charged. They have yet to be told if or when they will be put on trial. They think they were arrested because of the visit of the Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba in March 2012 and their activism with the Ladies in White, and that it is intended to intimidate other government critics. 

Niurka Luque Álvarez
Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

Calling on the authorities to charge Niurka Luque Álvarez, Sonia Garro Alfonso and Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González with internationally recognizable criminal offences or release them immediately;
Asking them to ensure that anyone charged is given a fair trial in compliance with international standards;
Urging them to cease immediately the harassment and intimidation of Ladies in White and other citizens who peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association.

Head of State and Government
Raúl Castro Ruz
Presidente de la República de Cuba
La Habana, Cuba
Fax: +53 7 83 33 085 (via Foreign Ministry)
+1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)
Email: (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Your Excellency
Interior Minister
General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra
Ministro del Interior y Prisiones
Ministerio del Interior, Plaza de la Revolución, La Habana, Cuba
Fax: +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)

Salutation: Your Excellency
And copies to:

Attorney General
Dr. Darío Delgado Cura
Fiscal General de la República, Fiscalía General de la República, Amistad 552, e/Monte y Estrella, Centro Habana
La Habana, Cuba
Salutation: Dear Attorney General

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date. 

Sonia Garro Alfonso, and Sonia’s husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González


Additional Information

The Ladies in White were commemorating on 17 March 2012 the anniversary of the 2003 Black Spring (Primavera Negra). In 2003, over several days, the Cuban authorities arrested 75 men and women for their peaceful expression of critical opinions of the government. They were subjected to summary trials and were sentenced to prison terms of up to 28 years. Amnesty International declared the 75 convicted dissidents to be prisoners of conscience, and the last of them was released in April 2011.

The Ladies in White were formed at that time as the group of female relatives of the 75 prisoners of conscience. After their releases in 2011, the Ladies in White continued their activity of campaigning for the release of remaining political prisoners and for the lifting of restrictions on fundamental civil and political freedoms in Cuba. Members of the organization have been repeatedly prevented from meeting for any purpose, including to attend mass on Sundays.

Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba from 28-30 March 2012, and celebrated open air masses in the city of Santiago de Cuba and the capital, Havana, and held meetings with the leaders of the Cuban Catholic Church and the Cuban authorities. Government critics had hoped the Pope’s visit might herald an opening on the part of the Cuban authorities, but instead they were subjected to further repression. Over 200 government critics were apparently detained during the Pope's visit, and many others held under house arrest, with the express purpose of preventing them from traveling to attend the masses and take part in protest activities.

Names: Niurka Luque Álvarez (f), Sonia Garro Alfonso (f), Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González (m)
Gender m/f: both

UA: 215/12 Index: AMR 25/018/2012 Issue Date: 18 July 2012

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Facts About Humanitarian Aide to Cuba

"You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts." - Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Ana Cecilia ship arrives in Cuba
International news media are reporting that: "Cuba receives first US shipment in 50 years" but that is not true. The State Department reported in 2008 that:
The American people are the largest providers of humanitarian aid to the Cuban people, and Cuba's top supplier of food. In 2007, the American people provided $240.5 million in private humanitarian assistance in the form of gift parcels filled with food and other basic necessities ($179.4 million), non-agricultural humanitarian donations ($20.6 million), and medical donations ($40.5 million). The United States Government also authorized $3.65 billion in sales of agricultural products ($3.621 billion) and sales of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals ($20.6 million). 
 Miami Cuban exiles have firsthand experience on how the Castro regime responds to humanitarian aide shipments. Back in October of 1996 Cuban exiles donated 72,000 pounds of rice, beans and powdered milk that was shipped to Cuba aboard a 707 cargo plane from Miami International Airport on October 27, 1996 to provide aide following Hurricane Lily's destructive path across the island. The aide arrived but regime officials refused to allow its distribution for days and days the relief supplies sat in Havana warehouses while Cubans went without. The aide was finally delivered on November 4, 1996 but 10% of it was not delivered because the regime objected to messages on the aide boxes such as: "exilio (exile) and Por Cuba, el amor todo lo puede (For Cuba, love conquers all)."

In 2006 when hurricanes Ike and Gustav slammed into Cuba causing extensive damage it was the Cuban dictatorship that turned down offers of  humanitarian assistance from the United States despite calls from the American government for the regime to reconsider its decision

Finally, the claim that this is the first shipment from the United States in 50 years fails to mention that since 2001 over $3.5 billion dollars worth of agricultural products have been shipped to Cuba by American companies. The real story is whether or not the humanitarian aide will reach Cubans or be confiscated by the dictatorship and be redirected elsewhere or resold.

The goal of this exercise in self-deception is seen in the following head line: "US aid ship in Cuba: Ending the embargo?" Ships have brought humanitarian assistance from the United States for years. The claim now is that since a ship brought a shipment from Miami to Cuba that this is some sort of great change. In reality it is much ado about nothing which sums up the accomplishments of the anti-sanctions lobby on Cuba. This is because the dictatorship has demonstrated its intransigence for democratic reforms and has gone back and forth over the past 30 years on so-called economic reforms.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Remembering "13 de Marzo" Tug Victims in Cuba: Threats and arrests

Despite requests by Amnesty International that nonviolent demonstrators not be threatened for observing the anniversary of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat sinking over the past 18 years activists have continued to be threatened, imprisoned and assaulted. 2012 is proving to be no different.

Angel Moya was arrested on July 10, 2012, along with his brother, for distributing pamphlets about the July 13, 1994 tugboat massacre. A slaughter in which agents of the Castro regime purposefully attacked and sank the tugboat carrying families seeking a better life outside of Cuba extrajudicially executing 37 men, women and children. Those responsible have still not been brought to justice.

Minardo Ramos, the Secretary of the Confederation of Independent Workers of Cuba (CTIC) was arrested on July 12, 2012 at his apartment in Central Havana. He was taken to Zanja police headquarters and interrogated by political police that call themselves: Ignacio and Rolando between 10:00am and 1:00pm to warn Minardo Ramos not to pay homage to the victims of the “13 de Marzo” tugboat sinking.

Jorge Garcia Perez "Antunez" tweeted from Cuba that Central Opposition Coalition members in Santa Clara detained and beaten while trying to place flowers for the victims of the 13 de Marzo Tugboat on July 13, 2012. Earlier today Antunez tweeted that numerous activists of the FRONT were arrested in Santa Cruz del Sur  carrying a floral offering for the "13 de Marzo" tugboat martyrs.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre and the Obama Administration

They say that in politics timing is everything.

37 victims of the "13 de Marzo" Tugboat Massacre on July 13, 1994

Eighteen years ago today agents of the Castro regime engaged in the massacre of at least 37 men, women and children trying to seek a better life on July 13, 1994. Cubans still  remember this crime and continue to demand justice for the victims.

Today, the Obama Administration chose to suspend measures targeting the Castro dictatorship.

Bad timing to issue such a statement.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

"13 de Marzo" Tugboat Massacre: Justice maybe delayed but it will not be denied

"Judgment for an evil thing is many times delayed some day or two, some century or two, but it is sure as life, it is sure as death!" - Thomas Carlyle

 37 identified victims of the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" Tugboat Massacre
 This Friday will mark eighteen years that have passed since 37 men, women and children were massacred by agents of the Cuban government as they tried to find a better life in freedom. On the early morning hours of July 13, 1994 the "13 de Marzo" tugboat left Havana harbor bound for the United States only to be intercepted six miles from the Malecón by other tugs that rammed and sank it while being monitored by the Cuban coastguard.

 Over the past 18 years this day has been a time to remember and to organize actions for others to remember this crime and demand justice. This year is no different. On July 13, 2012 please join in the campaign over social media to tweet and post "13 de Marzo tugboat" or "Remolcador 13 de marzo" in Spanish along with links to videos and reports explaining and documenting the atrocity.

This is not about revenge. It is the pursuit of justice and truth through time which requires persistence and memory.

Useful video and links:

CUBA: The Sinking of the "13 de Marzo" Tugboat on 13 July 1994 / Amnesty International

REPORT Nº 47/96: CASE 11.436 VICTIMS OF THE TUGBOAT "13 DE MARZO" vs.CUBA October 16, 1996 / IACHR

Cuba: Cuban authorities should lift threats against peaceful protesters / Amnesty International

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cholera and the Cuban Health Care System

The current cholera outbreak in Cuba offers an opportunity to see how the Cuban public health system operates. Unfortunately, the well being of Cubans is not the first item on the agenda. This is demonstrated in the regime's response. News of the outbreak in Manzanillo, in the east of the island, broke in El Nuevo Herald on June 29, 2012 thanks to the reporting of the outlawed independent press in the island. The state controlled media did not confirm the outbreak until days later on July 3, 2012. The BBC reported on July 7, 2012 that a patient had been diagnosed with Cholera in Havana. The dictatorship states that it has it under control.

The regime in Cuba has both an incredibly effective propaganda and state security apparatus however what it does not have is an effective healthcare system for all Cubans. As masters of propaganda the Castro regime can produce statistics and spin a story of wonderful medical care that is the envy of the world.  Filmmakers like Michael Moore have repackaged the propaganda and spread it globally. With their state security apparatus the regime in Cuba is able to terrorize many into going along with the lie.

For example the Cuban regime reports that "this is the first cholera outbreak since soon after the 1959 revolution." However, doing a search through The New York Times archives the last quarantine for Cholera it reported in a headline on Cuba was on September 16, 1916. The last cholera epidemic in Cuba ended in 1882.

Vibrio cholera bacterium
The claim that there have been no other cholera outbreaks should be met with skepticism. In 1997 when a Dengue epidemic broke out in Cuba the dictatorship tried to cover it up. When a courageous doctor spoke out he was locked up on June 25, 1997 and later sentenced to 8 years in prison. Amnesty International recognized Dr. Desi Mendoza Rivero as a prisoner of conscience. He was released from prison under condition he go into exile in December of 1998. The regime eventually had to recognize that there had been a dengue epidemic. However, if there were a cholera outbreak, not an epidemic, that the dictatorship could contain they would cover it up because it would go against their "revolutionary" narrative of progress.

Nevertheless, as it becomes more difficult to contain information and as other courageous Cubans report on human rights abuses despite the continuing terror some of the facts come to light.

For example in January of 2010 news got out that 26 mental patients had died in Havana at the Psychiatric Hospital, known as Mazorra, from negligence and neglect.

With the regime gaining free publicity with the highly publicized trips of Hugo Chavez for cancer treatment to Cuba, in June of 2011 a Cuban human rights defender raised important questions to Chavez about the quality of care over twitter such as "What would he say of Cuban health care if he were a widower of one of the women who died in the Palma Soriano maternity hospital?"

Another element of concern is the medical mistreatment of dissidents:

Juan Wilfredo Soto García was beaten up by police on May 5, 2011 then hospitalized later that same day and discharged. He returned the following day complaining of back pains and died a day later in intensive care.

The October 14, 2011 death of Laura Pollán under mysterious circumstances which Cuban physician and human rights defender, Oscar Elias Biscet described as "death by purposeful neglect."

Since November 22, 2011 Yris Perez Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera has been suffering from a large hematoma to the back of her head and state security along with medical doctors have denied her adequate health care. 

Katherine Hirschfeld, an anthropologist, in Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898 describes how her idealistic preconceptions were dashed by 'discrepancies between rhetoric and reality,' she observed a repressive, bureaucratized and secretive system, long on 'militarization' and short on patients' rights.

There is a health care system which is decent for regime elites in good favor and tourists with hard currency and another one for everyday Cubans that is a disaster. With regards to the public health system the priority is  the good image of the dictatorship not the well being of Cubans.

This is not a pattern that is unique to Cuba, their close ally North Korea also has a dysfunctional healthcare system.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A call for freedom in Cuba

Former political prisoners, dissidents, members of civil society inside and outside of Cuba have joined together in signing this document demanding that the Cuban regime respect human rights and transition to democracy.


As Cubans, legitimate sons of this land and an essential part of our nation, we feel a deep sorrow at the protracted crisis that we are living and the demonstrated inability of the current government to make fundamental changes. This obligates us from civil society, to seek and demand our own solutions.

Miserable income, shortage of food and shelter, the massive emigration due to lack of opportunity, discrimination of those who think differently, the lack of spaces for public debate, the arbitrary arrests, the lack of citizen's rights, corruption and the immobility of the tenure of the ruling elite are some of the symptoms of the difficult reality that we face. We want to debate publicly the dual currency, the immigration restrictions, the rights of workers to a living wage, the right of all Cubans, wherever they live, to foment economic initiatives in their own country, the demographic crisis, the free access to Internet and the new technologies. We want to debate about the exercise of democracy.

Based on that the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba establishes

 In its Article 3: In the Republic of Cuba sovereignty resides in the people from whom originates all the power of the state.

And in Article 63: Every citizen has the right to lodge complaints and petitions to the authorities and to receive attention or pertinent responses and in a adequate period of time, according to the law.


Put immediately into practice the necessary legal guarantees and policies conceived in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to ratify the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations, signed by the Cuban Government on February 28, 2008 in New York City. This would ensure the full respect for citizens no matter what their ideas or their political and social actions and that everyone's rights be restored who in their opinions, disagree with the government. We consider these rights essential for the formation of a modern, free and plural Cuba that will welcome us all equally and insert our sovereignty into a dynamic and increasingly more global world.

We are committed to a democratic transformation, where everyone can contribute their views and contribute to its realization. We invite all Cubans inside and outside the island identified with these demands, to join this just and necessary claim . We hope to be heard by the government is almost exhausted, despite this we still decided to deliver this demand to the authorities this application, as an urgent action to achieve effective understanding. We are determined not to accept the institutional silence in response to this demand considering as a response the ratification of the agreements mentioned.

Original Spanish text