Thursday, October 10, 2013

Troubling trends in Cuba: An Update

New regime tactic?: CDR president attacked activist with machete

The past six months have demonstrated that the human rights situation in Cuba remains grave and has deteriorated.

Amnesty International identified six new prisoners of conscience in Cuba over the past two months. On August 5, 2013 the human rights organization demanded the immediate release of five Cuban activists: Rafael Matos Montes de Oca, Emilio Planas Robert and the brothers Alexeis, Diango, and Vianco Vargas Martín. On September 12, 2013 Amnesty also recognized Iván Fernández Depestre as a prisoner of conscience. The Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs in Cuba has identified dozens of Cuban political prisoners.

Thousands of detentions of nonviolent activists exercising their fundamental rights have also taken place in the island over the past 6 months. There were more than 700 detentions documented in Cuba in the month of September alone.

Neither of these two new developments are new in Cuba but established patterns of repression.

However there are new developments that point to a disturbing escalation in violence. Ofelia Acevedo, human rights defender Oswaldo Paya's widow addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council on September 17, 2013 stated:

My family has received death threats and my children have suffered physical persecution by Cuban state security of the Cuban government in the streets of Havana. Violence against the members of all the opposition grows in the country. Less than three months ago Werlando Leiva of the Christian Liberation Movement was attacked with a machete on a public street because of his nonviolent work in favor of the plebiscite and human rights in the island. Werlando, who is a father of three, may never recover total mobility in his right hand. 
There have been other incidents involving activists being attacked by regime agents wielding machetes. This is a new and disturbing pattern when taking into consideration the escalating violence against female human rights defenders that has included beatings with blunt objects and disfiguring knife attacks later in 2012.

Taking all this into account and the suspicious deaths of human rights defenders such as Laura Pollán Toledo on October 14, 2011 and Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero on July 22, 2012 just to name two high profile cases the future for activists in Cuba is ominous.

Yris Perez Aguilera addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council during Cuba's universal periodic review on September 20, 2013 and denounced the violence and threats visited upon her stating:
I have been the victim of aggressions on the part of the Cuban authorities, especially by the agents Yuniel Monteagudo Reina and Eric Aquino Yera. They have beaten me into unconsciousness in the pavement, as took place most recently this past March 7 in Santa Clara. The hits to the head, neck, and back have caused me serious health problems that I have not been able to recover from. In addition to beating me, they have threatened me with death on various occasions, these agents have told me that they are going to rape me, and have shown their genitals during arbitrary arrests.  

She also denounced the suspicious death of a former female political prisoner who was not well known:
Daysi Talavera Ortiz, an activist in Matanzas, died run over by a car in January of the same year. Women human rights defenders in Cuba suffer homes under siege, aggressions against their young children, and the arbitrariness of the government that has remained in power for 54 years.
Human rights defenders are being brutalized, suffering death threats, and dying under suspicious circumstances over the past four years in a new and disturbing pattern. Sadly the international community rather than addressing these disturbing trends are instead discussing whether the regime switching controls from the infamous white card to new controls on the issuing of passports and permitting more travel after January of 2013 is substantive change.

The fact that the representative of the Ladies in White in Europe, Blanca Reyes, requested an entry permit to her homeland on July 22, 2013 to see her father who is 93 years old and very ill and lives in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba and was denied should dispel any illusions that the right of Cubans to travel inside and outside of their country has been restored. It is still defined by the whims of the dictatorship.

The answer written in the blood of Cuba's human rights defenders is that the regime's violent and murderous underlying nature has not changed at all. The body count of over a half century continues to rise and apologists for the regime still celebrate the dictatorship.

This is why it is so important to listen to the testimonies of both Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" and Yris Peres Aguilera who are with us today.

Thank you.

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