Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Policy paper shows correlation between US engagement and rising repression in Cuba

The Obama Administration’s Cuba Engagement Policy and Rising Repression

by John Suarez, Cuban Democratic Directorate

“The Cuban people deserve the support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter-American Democratic Charter.” – The White House December 17, 2014 

Sirley Ávila León: Holds state security responsible for May 2015 machete attack
  • Levels of violence and numbers of arbitrary detentions have grown exponentially during the 18 months of secret negotiations between the Castro regime and the Obama administration. 
  • Human Rights defenders were victims of brutal, life threatening machete attacks in the same month that secret negotiations between the Obama administration and the Castro dictatorship started. 
  • The December 17, 2014 announcement of normalized relations was surrounded by repression, violence and death. 
  • There has been an explosion of arbitrary detentions in Cuba, jumping from an average of 550 per month to 742. 
  • The Castro regime has been implicated in heightening repression against pro-democracy activists in Venezuela, including extrajudicial killings.

Six months ago on December 17, 2014 following eighteen months of secret negotiations between the Obama administration and the Castro regime, a new U.S. Cuba policy was announced with great pomp and circumstance by the President to the American people, at the same time that General Raul Castro,wearing his military uniform, addressed the Cuban people. President Obama argued that U.S. isolation of Cuba had failed to achieve its goals of a democratic transition, and that instead it had isolated the United States internationally and reduced its influence in the hemisphere. The aim of this paper is to analyze some of the events that took place during the secret negotiations and what has taken place since the policy was announced in the area of human rights violations.

First, the premise that U.S. policy on Cuba over the past half century had been one of unwavering isolation is inaccurate. President Carter between 1977 and 1980 lifted the travel ban on Cuba*, engaged the Castro regime in a dialogue, both countries opened interests sections creating for all intense purposes de facto embassies that have operated to the present date. In 2000 Bill Clinton, shook hands with Fidel Castro, and opened up sanctions on Cuba that began trade between American companies and the Castro dictatorship in what would reach billions of dollars.

Secondly, during both openings U.S. interests were negatively impacted in the region and internationally. During the Carter administration it coincided with the rise of the Sandinista dictatorship in Nicaragua and raging civil wars across Central America aided and abetted by the Castro regime.

During the Clinton administration the opening to Cuba coincided with the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. In both cases the U.S. policy of engagement with the Castro regime ended up expanding the dictatorship’s influence in the region while limiting that of the United States. The presence of Cuban state security has assisted in the undermining of human rights standards in both countries and needs to be taken into account in any analysis of human rights involving the Castro regime.#

The ‘New’ Policy
President Obama cited the loosening of sanctions that he had carried out in 2009, 2011 and on December 17, 2014. Concretely this new policy would involve re-establishing diplomatic relations, facilitating an expansion of travel to Cuba and make improvements on existing regulations to empower the Cuban people. Not mentioned was the commutation of the sentences of three Cuban spies, long demanded by the Castro regime, in exchange for Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen in what amounted to a hostage for terrorists swap. One of the spies, Gerardo Hernandez was serving a double life sentence, one of them for conspiracy to murder three U.S. citizens and a resident on February 24, 1996 in an act of international terrorism.

On April 10, 2015, Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro shook hands at the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama. They met and gave a joint statement the following day. Meanwhile the President remained silent on violence and harassment against activists by Cuban state security agents during the Summit and only met with two Cuban dissidents, who support his policies, in a closed meeting. On May 29, 2015, despite evidence that the Castro regime was still engaged in sponsoring terrorism, the State Department removed Cuba from the list of terror sponsors.

Sadly, the stated position of the Obama administration to hold “a critical focus” that “will include continued strong support by the United States for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba” seems not to be a priority in the ongoing discussions and increased engagement between the two countries. Removing Cuba from the list of terror sponsors closes off an avenue that victims had to obtain justice in U.S. Courts.

Consequences of the Obama Cuba Policy on Cubans
In Cuba, since the announcement of the normalization of relations between the United States and the Castro dictatorship, which occurred on December 17, 2014, repression against human rights activists and people in general continues. Not to mention that the levels of violence and numbers of arbitrary detentions, during the prior 18 months of secret negotiations between the Castro regime and the Obama administration, grew exponentially starting in June of 2013.

Machete Attacks
Human rights defenders were victims of brutal and life threatening machete attacks
in the same month that the secret negotiations between the Obama administration and the Castro dictatorship started. On June 8, 2013 in Holguin, Cuba Werlando Leiva of the Christian Liberation Movement was attacked with a machete on a public street. Later that same month on June 21, 2013 in Camaguey, Orlando Lazaro Gomez Hernandez, a member of the Pro Human Rights Party of Cuba and of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Civic Resistance Front stepped out of his house with a sign demonstrating his solidarity with hunger striker Luis Enrique Santos Caballero. Seeing this the president of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), an individual known as “Julio” ran out of his home with a machete and started to attack Orlando Lazaro with it, cutting part of his right hand and also striking him on the back. Others in coordination with the CDR president came out as the activist fell to the ground and began to kick him.

Sirley Ávila León, an ex-delegate of the People’s Assembly (Poder Popular) who in 2012 led a battle against the authorities of Las Tunas for a school in her town that led her to join the UNPACU opposition movement was gravely wounded in a machete attack on May 24, 2015. The attack was severe enough that she suffered deep cuts to her neck and knees, lost her left hand and could still lose her right arm. She has still not recovered from her injuries but has been sent home in this critical state. She says that they are trying to be rid of her and that the authorities on several occasions pressured her son (an ex-counterintelligence official) to commit her to a mental hospital arguing that dissenting from the system was insane. Furthermore that various occasions her cows and pigs were attacked with machetes, which she then addedI reaffirm that this is something that was prepared against me for some time.” Ávila is accusing Cuban state security of being behind the attack.

Yuriniesky Martínez with his dad, son, and on (right) how he was found

Extrajudicial killings
The December 17, 2014 announcement of normalized relations was also surrounded by repression, violence and death. Just a day earlier on December 16 the Cuban coastguard ram and sank a boat with 32 refugees, one of them, Diosbel Díaz Bioto, went missing and is presumed dead. The rest were repatriated and detained. Less than four months later Yuriniesky Martínez Reina (age 28) was shot in the back and killed by state security chief Miguel Angel Río Seco Rodríguez in the Martí municipality of Matanzas, Cuba on April 9, 2015 for peacefully trying to leave Cuba. A group of young men were building a boat near Menéndez beach to flee the island, when they were spotted trying to leave and were shot at by state security.

Yosvani Melchor Rodriguez arbitrarily detained since 3/19/10
Arbitrary Detentions
During the Obama presidency there has been an explosion in the number of arbitrary detentions in Cuba with the highest numbers(on average) occurring during the eighteen months that the White House was secretly negotiating with the Castro regime [the number of detentions jumped from an average of 550 a month to 742 detentions a month]. According to Centro de Información Hablemos Press (CIHPRESS) there were 8,519 arbitrary detentions registered in 2014 compared to 5,718 in 2013. Addressing this dramatic increase in arbitrary detentions, Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International in their 2015 annual report on Cuba warned, “we have been receiving incredibly worrying reports about a rise in harassment and short-term detentions of dissidents throughout 2014 which has continued in recent weeks. Prisoner releases will be no more than a smokescreen if they are not accompanied by expanded space for the free and peaceful expression of all opinions and other freedoms in Cuba.”

The Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation (Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional) documented 178 politically motivated arbitrary detentions in January 2015, 492 in February 2015, 610 in March 2015, 338 in April 2015 and 641 in May 2015 in their monthly reports. Reports from opposition activists during the course of March 2015 indicated that hundreds of arbitrary arrests have been carried out as of March 16, 2015. March 1st began with 13 members of the Ladies in White beaten up and arbitrarily detained and later that is the same month 101 UNPACU activists were detained in Santiago, Cuba on March 15, 2015. The Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) reported that "[t]he current and palpable uptrend in indiscriminate and often violent political repression against women and men who are only intending to exercise basic civil and political rights in a completely peaceful way continues to be alarming."

Antonio Rodiles attacked by State Security July 5, 2015
The news agency EFE reported that CCDHRN also denounced that in May 88 peaceful opposition figures were victims of physical attacks, vandalism, harassment and "acts of repudiation" attributable to the secret political police or State Security. On July 5, 2015 Antonio Rodiles was severely beaten on his way to the weekly Sunday march in Havana organized by the Ladies in White to demand the release of Cuban political prisoners. Rodiles suffered a broken nose requiring immediate surgery, several blows to the head, in the left ear, jaw and a fracture in the large left toe.

Over the past twelve consecutive Sundays scores of activists have been violently detained while trying to peacefully march with the Ladies in White. The Havana based project State of SATS (Estado de SATS) on June 17, 2015 published a video on YouTube interviewing members of the Ladies in White: Yaquelín Boni, Yamilé Garro Alfonso, Alina de la Caridad Lans García, Cecilia Guerra Alfonso, Aliuska Gómez García and other human rights activists such as Ángel Moya Acosta. who gave testimony on the repression that took place on Sunday, June 14, 2015 where 90 + activists were subjected to an act of repudiation by mobs brought in by state security agents and being detained arbitrarily, punched, kicked, grabbed by throat, thrown to the ground, and handcuffed by these same agents and national revolutionary police.

On December 26, 2014 Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, was detained on the Malecón esplanade in Havana as he was driving towards Central Park to hold a performance art happening with two pigs whose bodies were painted with the names: Fidel and Raúl. Since then “El Sexto” has remained detained in Valle Grande prison. He has been accused of “disrespect“and is awaiting a trial. Relatives report that he came down with pneumonia and has not received adequate medical care. As of July 1, 2015 he remains arbitrarily detained.

On June 24, 2015 Rosa María Rodríguez Gil addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva and called for the release of her son, Yosvani Melchor Rodriguez, unjustly imprisoned since March 19, 2010. In her statement she outlined the circumstances that led to his arbitrary detention:
My name is Rosa Maria Rodriguez Gil, I am a member of the Coordinating Council of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) and I live in Havana, Cuba. For my activism and commitment to the MCL ... because I refused to collaborate with the Cuban political police, my son Yosvani Melchor Rodriguez, a young man with psychological problems, was arbitrarily arrested, subjected to a show trial, where the prosecution was unable to demonstrate evidence of an alleged crime of trafficking in persons that he did not commit, they sanctioned him to 12 years in prison and he has spent 5 years in the prisons of Cuba. My son is being punished as a vendetta for my participation in the civic and constitutional campaign for a referendum where the people can freely decide whether if they want democracy. Not content to kidnap my son, the Cuban authorities denied Yosvani even the right to parole, that all inmate has on the island once they have passed the half way point of the sanction imposed, in this case unjustly. 
Political trials
At least four activists were placed on trial in the period following the December 17, 2014 announcement and others are awaiting trial. On December 19, 2014 Ciro Casanova Alexis was put on trial and sentenced to four years in prison. Daniel Moreno de la Peña tried on January 6, 2015 and sentenced to eight months in prison. On January 15, 2015 the trial of Ibars González Mirabal was carried out. He is under house arrest until the sentence is dictated against him facing one year and six months in prison and is still subject to harassment. On January 28, 2015 in Havana the rapper, Maikel Oksobo, also known as El Dkano, was sentenced to a year in prison under the charge of ‘peligrosidad predelictiva’ (precriminal dangerousness).

Exporting repression to Venezuela and Panama
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Fidel Castro had repeatedly tried to expand his style of revolution throughout Latin America and failed when the U.S. firmly upheld its policy of containment and isolation. Following both the Carter administration’s engagement policy (1977 – 1980) and Clinton’s (1999 – 2000) first through armed struggle in Nicaragua and secondly through subverting the democratic process in Venezuela was able to expand his reach in the hemisphere undermining regional human rights standards and structures. According to the 2005 Stratfor World Terrorism report, beginning with the Hugo Chavez presidency in 1999 there has been a “rapid increase in the numbers of Cuban political advisors, military officers and intelligence operatives in the country”—a disturbing presence, as the island country remains the last dictatorship in the hemisphere.

As early as 2005 there were reports on how security forces would frequently break up strikes and arrest trade unionists, allegedly under the watchful eye of Cuban security officials.^ Following the death of Chavez in March of 2013 the Castro regime successfully installed Nicolas Maduro and consolidated its control over the regime in Venezuela turning it into a virtual colony. During the 18 months in which the United States and Cuba took part in secret negotiations the levels of violence and terror visited upon the democratic opposition in Venezuela also grew exponentially as have reports of Cuban military and state security agents developing strategies of repression and participating in the crackdown.

Beginning in February of 2014 the high profile torture and killing of student opposition activists were carried out to terrorize the student pro-democracy movement. Reports in the media described individuals with Cuban accents involved in the brutality. Protests erupted in Venezuela where Cuban flags were burned while denouncing the Castro regime’s role in the repression therefore when analyzing Cuban repression, the role of the Castro regime in Venezuela must be taken into account. Here are some high profile examples of 43 killed between 2014 and the present date.

  • Bassil Alejandro Dacosta was shot in the head in Caracas on February 12, 2014 from shots fired by a group of police men and his killing was captured from different angles on three different cameras. He was 24 years old.
  • Robert Redman, carried the shooting victim, Bassil Alejandro Dacosta on February 12, 2014, was himself shot in the head and killed later that same day in Caracas but not before tweeting: "Today I was hit with a rock in the back, a helmet in my nose. I swallowed tear-gas, Carried the kid who died, and what did you do?" He was 31 years old. ,
  • Génesis Carmona was shot in the head in the city of Valencia in the state of Carabobo on February 18, 2014 and died a day later from her injuries. In the last picture taken of her before being shot she is holding up a poster with two other women that reads: "God's time is perfect but if we don't go out into the streets, the time of Maduro will be ETERNAL." She was 22 years old.
  • Geraldine Moreno was shot in the head with buckshot on February 19, 2014 in Tazajal, located in Naguanagua, in the state of Carabobo while taking part in a protest and in one of her last tweets on February 17th explained what motivated her to take part in the demonstrations: "No one sends me I go because I want to defend my Venezuela." She died from her injuries on Saturday, February 22, 2014. She was 23 years old.
  • 14 year old high school student Kluiverth Roa was extrajudicially executed on February 24, 2015 by a member of the Bolivarian National Police of Táchira State identified as Javier Mora. This officer shot the teenager in the head, killing him in the afternoon. Kluiverth Roa, a student in San Agustín Codazzi school in San Critóbal, had just gotten out of school and was in the Barrio Obrero sector of the city, three blocks from the Catholic University of Táchira (UCAT) where a student protest was taking place. The teenager was surprised by a couple of functionaries riding on motorcycle and one of them shot the youth in the head. Kluiverth Roa was buried on February 25th with his Scout troop serving as pallbearers. 
The respected human rights organization Provea warns that the "killing of Roa Kluiverth is not an isolated event, but is a consequence of the rise of repression in the country." 43 young people, many of them students, have been extrajudicially executed in this manner since February of 2014.
Leticia Ramos and Augusto Monge attacked in Panama
Cuban state security engages in violence and intimidation at VII Summit of the Americas in Panama
Inviting the Castro regime to the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama in April of 2015, violated the democratic ideals of the summit and democratic charter signed of September 2001. On the eve of and during the course of the summit, the anti-democratic and violent nature of the dictatorship in Cuba was made evident. The Panamanian government had hoped that extending an invitation to all elements of Cuban society would propitiate a dialogue where all involved could “listen to each other within the frame of respect.” The summit was inundated with Cuban officials and state security agents that carried out acts of repudiation to disrupt events of the Summit in order to prevent Cuba’s or Venezuela’s independent civil society from participating in designated summit activities. "activists Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of murdered opposition leader Oswaldo Paya, and Lillian Tintori, wife of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez were welcomed by screams and insults at the Civic Society Forum. ,

Outside of the Summit in The Porras public park on April 8, 2015 the Castro regime sent its agents, including a high ranking intelligence agent of the Castro regime (charged with overseeing repression in Venezuela) identified as Alexis Frutos Weeden to physically assault a small group of opposition activists who sought to leave a wreath at a bust of Jose Marti. The level of violence was such that several activists had to obtain medical treatment due to their injuries. Among those targeted for the worse beatings were activists from inside the island Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez, Yris Pérez Aguilera, and Leticia Ramos Herrería were brutally attacked. From Miami, Cuban Americans Orlando Gutiérrez Boronat, suffered a broken rib and torn ligaments and cartilage in his knee requiring surgery, and Augusto Monge was also badly beaten and required medical attention.

A concrete result of the Obama administration’s engagement policy has not only been a rise in violence and repression in Cuba but the expansion and intensification of the Cuban intelligence services active measures against nonviolent democratic activists in highly visible instances in Venezuela and Panama. It should be cause for concern that one of the top Cuban intelligence agents tasked with overseeing the violent repression of young Venezuelan nonviolent pro-democracy activists would be transferred to Panama to oversee a violent action against Cuban pro-democracy activists while President Obama shook hands and met with Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

End notes
*   Conversations with Carter  by Jimmy Carter, Edited by Don Richardson  October 1, 1998 Pg 310
#   The Civil War in Nicaragua: Inside the Sandinistas by Roger Miranda, William E. Ratliff,  March 1, 1992 pg 100
^   Meghan Clyne, “Venezuela Outsources Intelligence Activities to Cuba – Caracas Provides Cheap Oil in Exchange for Surveillance of Citizens,” New York Sun, 26 January, 2005; on Cuban security presence in Venezuela, see also Javier Corrales, “The Logic of Extremism: How Chavez Gains by Giving Cuba So Much,” in Cuba, Venezuela and the Americas: A Changing Landscape, Inter-American Dialogue, December 2005.

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