Thursday, January 12, 2017

Human Rights and Rising Repression in Cuba

"The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the US government and the democratic world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages". - Rosa María Payá, addressing the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on February 3, 2015

Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet arrested this morning in Havana

This morning at 10:15am received the following e-mail from Marcell Felipe of the Inspire America Foundation:
Cuban State Security has just taken Dr Oscar  Elías Biscet into custody. Dr Biscet is the a Nobel Prize Candidate and was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush. A contingent of 6 men including 4 police operatives and 2 state security agents took Dr Biscet into custody in patrol car 228, about an hour ago just outside of his home, and would not say where he was being taken. His whereabouts are unknown. We are monitoring the situation and will place updates during the day at Thanks for sharing this news it may well save a life.
The publication Diario de Cuba reported an escalation in repression in  Havana, Pinar del Río and Santiago de Cuba today and The Miami Herald reported on the arrest of dissidents and the home of an independent journalist searched by State Security for "nearly four hours." This past Sunday Diario de Cuba reported that more than 50 Ladies in White were detained in Cuba while trying to attend Mass and peacefully march afterwards.

This is a continuation of the deteriorating human rights situation in Cuba over the past eight years of the Obama Administration. Tragically the Obama Administration's marginalization of dissidents that began in 2009 was deadly. Rosa María Payá, who was forced into exile following her father's extrajudicial killing on July 22, 2012 and death threats directed at her afterwards, addressed the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on February 3, 2015:
 "On 22 July 2012, Cuban State Security detained the car in which my father, Oswaldo Payá, and my friend Harold Cepero, along with two young European politicians, were traveling. All of them survived, but my father disappeared for hours only to reappear dead, in the hospital in which Harold would die without medical attention.  The Cuban government wouldn’t have dared to carry out its death threats against my father if the US government and the democratic world had been showing solidarity. If you turn your face, impunity rages. While you slept, the regime was conceiving their cleansing of the pro-democracy leaders to come. While you sleep, a second generation of dictators is planning with impunity their next crimes."
The claim made by William LeoGrande in Huffington Post on January 9, 2017 that the "human rights situation in Cuba has not improved for dissidents, but it has improved for everyone else" is absurd. First the situation for dissidents has worsened with increasing violence against activists and secondly Cubans, who are not dissidents, have been shot and killed trying to leave Cuba as recently as 2015.  

Diosbel Díaz Bioto and Yuriniesky Martínez Reina both killed trying to leave
The December 17, 2014 announcement of normalized relations was also surrounded by violence and death against Cubans by the Castro regime. Just a day earlier on December 16 the Cuban coast guard rammed and sank a boat with 32 refugees. One of them, Diosbel Díaz Bioto, went missing and is presumed dead. The rest were repatriated and jailed. 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. 

If the human rights situation for everyone else in Cuba was improving there would not be a new exodus of tens of thousands of young Cubans fleeing the island. The claim by Professor LeoGrande that Cubans can start their own businesses does not track with what happened to Saul Berenthal, a Cuban American who had planned to open a factory to manufacture tractors in Cuba. President Obama had highlighted the proposal in 2016. However Mr. Berenthal made a mistake when he regained his Cuban nationality that sunk his deal with the Castro regime.  According to The Miami Herald, Cuban law restricts Cubans living on the island from starting their own companies:
Private sector workers in Cuba, known as cuentapropistas (self-employed), are licensed only to work for themselves and cannot legally establish companies to expand their work beyond a small scale. Larger enterprises are allowed only for the government and foreigners. According to a report on the foreign investment law produced by the National Organization of Cuban Law Firms, “Cuban citizens residing in the country cannot participate as partners in a joint venture.” The report added: “This law is designed to favor 'foreign investors' or Cubans living outside the country.”

Read more here:
Professor LeoGrande tried to tie the freedom to own computers and cellphones to the December 2014 policy change, but that is untrue. It is true that the Castro regime had a strategy in the past of restricting internet access using extreme measures including outlawing the ownership of personal computers from 2002 until 2008, but the re-legalization of computer ownership took place in the last year of the Bush Administration. Furthermore, it was the Bush White House that began promoting the shipping of cell phones to the island. Finally, Yoani Sánchez started up her independent blogging anonymously in 2004 and began to sign her posts in 2008 ending her anonymity. Prior to December 2014 the proliferation of independent blogs and digital media sites critical of the Castro regime had already taken place with the launch of 14 y Medio on May 21, 2014. Even the loosening of travel restrictions, that can be rescinded at any moment, was announced in 2012 and began in 2013.

Sirley Ávila León lost her left hand, knees slashed, right arm nearly severed in 2015 attack
The claim that human rights have improved for most Cubans since December 2014 rings hollow on all fronts. The escalation of politically orchestrated violence by state security and the brutality visited on nonviolent dissidents such as Sirley Ávila León, the victim of a brutal machete attack in May of 2015 that left her crippled or the murder of Yunisledy Lopez Rodriguez in May of 2014.  

Thanks to a rapid mobilization over social media and in the press by the end of the day there was some good news. Marcell Felipe sent me another e-mail at 4:10pm announcing that Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet had been freed:
Doctor Biscet has been released. Thank you to everyone who moved quickly through the appropriate channels and the media who took interest in his story. I spoke with Doctor Biscet a few minutes ago at his home. While in custody he was told to give up his work and that he was getting old and that he was being watched and would go to prison if he continued. Dr Biscet had recently renewed and increased efforts to promote his trademark Emilia Project and many of his colleagues have said 2017 is a definitive year, making the already failing regime all the more concerned; proof of how a man of peace can threaten one of the world's fiercest totalitarian state.
However prisoners of conscience remain behind bars in Cuba today. Danilo Maldonado, an artist has been imprisoned since tagging a wall with the phrase "Se fue" [he left] referring to the death of Fidel Castro on November 26, 2016 and Amnesty International has recognized him as a prisoner of conscience and has an urgent action campaign for his release. Prison officials would not allow the young artist a sweater or a blanket in El Combinado prison despite a cold front. 

Also arrested in the aftermath of Fidel Castro's death was Eduardo Cardet, the spokesperson of the Christian Liberation Movement. Cardet who is also a beloved medical doctor and family man respected in his community. While traveling abroad his wife was detained and warned that upon his return they would lock him up for 15 years in prison for having met the wrong people during his travels. Despite the threat Eduardo Cardet returned home on November 30, 2016 to a brutal beating, incarceration and trumped up charges. Relatives report that Dr. Cardet  has been told that he can go home if he abandons his democratic convictions. More disturbingly prison officials have spread the rumor that Eduardo Cardet is making calls to denounce the criminal rackets of the inmates making him the target of physical assaults from other prisoners. 

Additionally, Carlos Alberto González Rodríguez, age 48, who painted "Down with Castro" graffiti in Las Tunas was sentenced to two years in prison under the charge of "Peligrosidad Social Pre-Delictiva” (Pre-Crime Social Dangerousness). Likewise a show trial was scheduled to be held yesterday (January 11, 2017) for a family that had been the victim of an act of repudiation for their dissent on November 27, 2016. The accused are Maydolis Leyva Portelles and her children Adairis, Anairis Miranda Leyva, and Fidel Batista Leyva.

One need not be a political dissident to get into trouble in totalitarian Cuba. Darío Pérez Rodríguez, age 49, resident in the Eastern city of Holguín who on January 4, 2017 was sentenced by the municipal tribunal to a year prison for "defaming the martyrs of the Homeland", a crime found in Article 204 of the Penal Code. What did he do? He refused the order issued at his workplace to watch Fidel Castro's funeral on television.

Cuba remains a totalitarian regime where human rights are systematically violated and repression is on the rise after 58 years of dictatorship.

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