Friday, March 30, 2012

Oswaldo Payá denounces attempt to make victims participate in their own oppression

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31).
Oswaldo Payá at Papal Mass in Havana, Cuba with banner that reads "the truth will make you free"

Christian Liberation Movement


On the one hand we are grateful that His Holiness Benedict XVI has come to Cuba to preach to our people the Word of God and to bless them. On the other hand the unfair maneuvers by the regime to seize the encounters of the Pope with the people and the repression of the nonviolent opposition have been a scandal of which many Cubans are aware.

We believe that this repression against the opposition has not been immune to the contempt, exclusion and disqualification opponents, Catholic or not, that we have been suffering from a certain elite within the Church. This elite through their media in such magazines as Palabra Nueva (New Word), Espacio Laical (Lay Space) and in many events, has over the years carried out a practice of disqualification of the nonviolent opposition and promoted support for the alleged changes along government lines. It is in this environment that today in the Father Felix Varela Center, a former seminary, "the Cuban businessman and politician based in the United States, Mr. Carlos Saladrigas" will speak on: Attitudes and policies we have to take to achieve the inclusion of the Cuban Diaspora in the social activity of the Island.

The Christian Liberation Movement denounces that same elite we mentioned that insists publicly that in Cuba there are no independent movements and parties. We have never sought political space within the Church, but the rights for all Cubans in society. Everyone knows that. But it is painfully obvious that the space that the Church could offer for dialogue among all Cubans, Catholics or not, with respect to plurality and open to participation, has been seized, at least in Havana, by this elite that with support from the hierarchy acts as the political party of the Church, which is neither a party nor should have parties.

This small group that takes over the space of all lay people on the political and social issues, not only excludes others, but denies the reality of our struggle for freedom and our right to exist. They coincide with the Communist Party's claim to be a single party, but in the church and agree on the exclusion and disqualification of those who do not submit.

Not only is given the coincidence of this elite with the methods of exclusion and imposition of the Communist Party, but have largely agreed on the promotion of the line attributed to the oligarchy the lead role in the alleged changes and call for the vote of confidence for the government of Raúl Castro.

Our Movement denounces the regime's attempt to impose a fraudlent change, i.e. change without rights and the inclusion of many interests in this change that sidesteps democracy and the sovereignty of the people of Cuba. The attempt to link the Diaspora in this fraudulent change is to make victims participate in their own oppression. The Diaspora does not have to "assume attitudes and policies in entering the social activity of the island." The Diaspora is a Diaspora because they are Cuban exiles to which the regime denied rights as it denies them to all Cubans. It is not in that part of oppression, without rights, and transparency that the Diaspora has to be inserted, that would be part of fraudulent change.

The gradual approach makes sense only if there are transparent prospects of freedom and rights. We Cubans have a right to our rights. Why not rights? It's time. That is the peaceful change that we promote and claim. Changes that signifies freedom, reconciliation, political pluralism and free elections. Then the Diaspora will cease being a Diaspora, because all Cubans will have rights in their own free and sovereign country. That is why we fight.

Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas ... On Behalf of the Christian Liberation Movement

Havana, March 30, 2012

Listen to Oswaldo Payá (in Spanish)

Original text in Spanish available here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why are some disappointed by the Pope's visit to Cuba?

The truth is a desire of the human person, the search for which always supposes the exercise of authentic freedom. Many, without a doubt, would prefer to take the easy way out, trying to avoid this task. Some, like Pontius Pilate, ironically question the possibility of even knowing what truth is (cf. Jn 18:38), ... There are too many who, like the Roman governor, wash their hands and let the water of history drain away without taking a stand. - Pope Benedict XVI, March 28 , 2012

Projection of Pope Benedict XVI's image onto the Havana Cathedral in Cuba

Why are some saddened and disappointed by the Pope's visit to Cuba while others are profoundly satisfied by it? There are three main reasons (listed further below) as to why some people were disappointed. However the top issue is that the Pope met with Fidel Castro (who is no longer head of state) but had no time to meet with Catholic dissidents such as the Ladies in White or Oswaldo Paya. Berta Soler, the spokeswoman for the Ladies in White in an interview with the Spanish newspaper ABC explained the reason for her disappointment:
“the Pope forgot to grant all of the oppressed and marginalized in his flock the one minute of contact that we begged for, but, in spite of our great disappointment, we have not lost our faith or our love for Christ.”
Oswaldo Paya of the Christian Liberation Movement who was able to attend the Mass in Havana carrying a banner that said "The truth will set you free" although condemning the repression celebrated the Pope's visit:

"I speak to you at the end of the Mass, despite the harassment and the persecution that we have been subjected to, have been able to arrive to the homily in which there was much vigilance and where many persons that have nothing to do with this were called to attend, but where also the People of God were also there listening to the Word of the Holy Father.

Our first words are for hundreds of our fellow dissidents who were not able to be here because of the wave of fear. There was a great absence in these Masses of precisely those of us who defend human rights. I speak of them and in the name of those who have no voice and have only suffered scorn and repression, and we must remember. They are the ones who defend reconciliation, peace and liberty in Cuba, despite that they are the ones who have been excluded. Terror has excluded them.

But we prayed with the Holy Father, we opened our hearts to hope. 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."

Three main reasons behind disappointment with the visit:

1. Not as an effective communicator as his predecessor
Blessed John Paul II

Pope Benedict XVI, in addition to being a man of God, is a intellectual heavy weight, but compared to Blessed John Paul II doesn't have the same communication skills as his predecessor. I followed all the services that the Pope presided over and listened carefully but still managed to miss or not appreciate the depth of what His Holiness was saying until I went back and read his homilies.

Over the two days he said a number of things that in my opinion went further than what Pope John Paul II had said in 1998 on freedom and struggle, but the delivery was much more difficult to absorb. Hopefully, all that Pope Benedict XVI spoke about Cuba during his trip will be republished in a format that can be read by Cubans on the island. Not only would it be extremely valuable for evangelizing into the Catholic faith but also providing insights for the opposition on the moral/spiritual dimension of nonviolent struggle.

2. Didn't meet with opposition or denounce ongoing repression during his visit

Furthermore, remaining silent about the wave of repression unleashed just prior to his arrival in order to prevent nonviolent dissidents from attending Mass in both Santiago and Havana and not mentioning or commenting on the public spectacle of regime officials detaining an individual for shouting against the dictatorship and calling for freedom prior to the Mass and physically assaulting the protester repeatedly as he was taken away was disappointing. In light of the detention of over 250 dissidents and the blocking of communications during the Pope's visit Amnesty International made the following request:
“In view of this situation, which contradicts his appeal for a ‘more open society’ in Cuba, the Pope should take a stand and lend his voice to those that have been left voiceless due to the ongoing repression and condemn the lack of freedoms in Cuba.”
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI with regards to Amnesty International's request and the heavy handedness with the few who spoke out prior to the Mass who were taken away didn't say anything explicitly but in the final Homily in Havana offered a biblical teaching on resistance and sacrifice.
In today’s first reading, the three young men persecuted by the Babylonian king preferred to face death by fire rather than betray their conscience and their faith. They experienced the strength to “give thanks, glorify and praise God” in the conviction that the Lord of the universe and of history would not abandon them to death and annihilation. Truly, God never abandons his children, he never forgets them. He is above us and is able to save us by his power. At the same time, he is near to his people, and through his Son Jesus Christ he has wished to make his dwelling place among us in.
However, the regime did respond explicitly to the Pope's subtle calls for reform and openness: government minister Marino Murillo said “In Cuba, there will not be political reform.”

3. Cardinal Ortega's actions clouded Pope's visit before he even arrived

Even before His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI arrived on the island on March 15, Cardinal Jaime Ortega responded to the occupation of a Church in Cuba by 13 dissidents by calling on the political police to enter the Church and forcefully remove the occupiers. This upset many Cuban Catholics, who although not agreeing with the occupation of the Church, were horrified by the use of regime agents to expel and detain the dissidents at the request of the Cardinal. When Church's have been occupied in other countries, Church officials have sought dialogue and mediation to end the occupations internally. In Boston, Massachusetts when occupiers took over a Church the Bishop did not resort to legal recourse until dialogue and discussion would not resolve the situation and several months had passed. At the same time one must take into account that the legal system in Boston and the police function in a democratic society were parishioners have rights not a totalitarian communist dictatorship with a horrible human rights record. All the more reason for Cardinal Ortega to have resolved the matter internally with patience and dialogue but instead, unfortunately, invited in the agents of the dictatorship to resolve the problem for him.

Of lasting importance and cause for both hope and frustration

Pope Benedict XVI's homilies most importantly preached the Holy Gospel and evangelized hundreds of thousands of Cubans. That in and of itself is of primary importance and plants the seeds of spiritual liberation that is anathema to totalitarian regimes. His Holiness also inspired many with his words on the true nature of liberty and truth, and he made a call to nonviolent action.

At the same time many were disappointed because Pope Benedict XVI extensively mentioned relations with the communist regime; met with high ranking officials but made no explicit mention of the democratic opposition over his three day visit to Cuba much less meet with them; and spoke about "progress" by the regime when things on many fronts have gotten worse in the midst of massive crackdown.

In his last Homily in Havana, Cuba on March 28, 2012 His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI spoke many profound truths that are well worth reading, studying and reflecting on. Among these truths is one that bears repeating in this age of compromise and relativism: "Each man and woman has to seek the truth and to choose it when he or she finds it, even at the risk of embracing sacrifices."

Ray Walser, a researcher at the conservative think tank Heritage offered the following conclusion of his analysis on the impact of the Pope's visit to Cuba: "His Holiness did not light a fire of freedom as many hoped; he did not reach out directly to the dissidents, but he stirred an already simmering pot. He offered an alternative vision of a future Cuba as “a home for all,” not as the last bastion of communism."

Cuban Catholics Carlos Eire & Geandy Pavon weigh in on Pope Benedict XVI's Cuba pilgrimage

Deeply concerned that the aftermath of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba and the policies pursued by the Church on the island will, as was the case following the wars of independence in the nineteenth century in Cuba, result in an even weaker Catholic Church after communism.

The essay by Carlos Eire and the video projected by Geandy Pavon over La Ermita de la Caridad demonstrate that influential and practicing Cuban catholics have been deeply disturbed by the moral implications of the visit.

From Babalu Blog:

Let Peter weep

by Carlos Eire

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:72

When Jesus chose Peter as his chief apostle, he knew he was delegating his authority to a very weak, and very flawed man. Peter was impulsive, inconstant, given to cowardice, and – by his own description – quite a sinner. Yet Jesus, the all-knowing Son of God, chose him over all the others.

And Peter's denial of Jesus just before the crucifixion was not the end of his constant screw-ups. He tried to lie to the apostle Paul, in regard to his opinion on keeping Kosher, and even tried to cover his tracks about having lied (Galatians 2:11). Up until the end he kept screwing up, and those around him kept recording his faults. Legend has it that when Nero began his persecution of the Christians in Rome, Peter headed straight out of town, and would have kept going if the risen Jesus had not bumped into him and asked “quo vadis?”, hey, where are you going? But legend also has it that he came to his senses, returned to Rome, and was crucified upside down on the Vatican hill.

Every pope after him screwed up in various ways. Three examples should be enough.

Pope Honorius I (625 -638) agreed with the monophysite heretics in a private letter, and his remains were later dug up and thrown into the Tiber River.

Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) had several mistresses and fathered a brood of ruthless illegitimate children, one of whom – Cesare Borgia -- was not only made bishop at the age of 15 and cardinal at the age of 18, but actually went on to become a formidable back-stabbing warrior, and the inspiration for Machiavelli’s book The Prince, the ultimate how-to manual for unprincipled tyrants. As if this were not enough, he also inspired the lurid and dreadful Showtime television series, "The Borgias."

In 1517, when Pope Leo X first heard of an Augustinian monk in Saxony named Martin Luther who had angered a Dominican preacher by challenging the legitimacy of indulgences, he dismissed all the fuss as nothing more than another “monkish squabble” between religious orders. Of course, we all know what happened next: the Protestant Reformation.

What are we to make of this, those of us who are Catholics? And those who are not?

The First Vatican Council proclaimed in 1871 that the successors of Peter are infallible in questions of faith and doctrine, that is, they are incapable of leading the faithful astray when it comes to their salvation. But it said nothing about the pope’s private life and his behavior concerning earthly matters.

Up until today, all of this had been a very abstract issue for me. Yes, I knew all this, and have studied it and taught my students about it ad nauseam, but I had never been affected by a papal failure of character until today.

Today reminded me of Good Friday. It felt like it, more than any Good Friday in recent memory. There was an abject despondency in the air, an oppressive grief beyond words. A crucifixion, multiplied eleven million times.

Nemesis at "Ermita de la Caridad del Cobre" in Miami by Geandy Pavon

Today His Holiness Benedict XVI disowned Christ in Cuba. Today, he averted his eyes from the eleven million crucified Cubans in his midst, as he celebrated the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist. Today, he chose not to speak for the crucified, or to chasten their tormentors. Instead, he spent his time criticizing the so-called embargo, blessing the tyrants, and preaching a platitudinous sermon written for the theological faculty at the University of Regensburg rather than for the Cuban people.

And his subaltern, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, archbishop of Havana, beamed with satisfaction at the abject submission of Church to state.

I am saddened, yes, as are many other Cubans. I wept today. I am beyond sad: today has been one of the blackest days for me in a long time. The clouds hung low. At one point the sun was blotted out. I could not help but see eleven million crosses, with bodies writhing on them, stretched from one end of Cuba to the other. But I am not broken. Nor is my faith shaken. God works in mysterious ways. The Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, Pope Benedict XVI has betrayed Cuba. So what? Aside from questions of faith and doctrine, he is as fallible as all of us are, and as prone to moral failure. And as a Catholic, it is my duty to pray for him.

I am angry too, yes. Mad as hell. I am angry at the old man, Joseph Ratzinger, and at the subalterns who advised him and made excuses for him. But popes have screwed up before, and will continue screwing up. And it isn’t up to any pope, or cardinal, or any foreign power to free Cuba from its tyrants. It is up to us, and to us alone, whether there or in exile.

His Holiness Benedict XVI did all Cubans a great favor today, when you look at his behavior from a certain perspective. He showed us that we cannot depend on anyone to help us.

Forget the pope. Let Peter weep, when he comes to his senses. Weeping is not for us, nor is whining. Forget any power on earth. Forget the differences between Catholics and non-Catholics. Forget heaven above, forget hell below . Cuba is hell on earth, our hell. Our task is to fight the tyrants and those who set up the eleven million crosses. Our role is to stand up to the tyrants and the henchmen who set up the crosses, wherever we are, and to remind the world constantly of their crimes against humanity.

Eventually, we shall overcome. Yes, we will.

But first, we have to realize where we are, and what the hour demands of us. Right now, for every Cuban, everywhere, there is but one question to answer: “quo vadis?”

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Amnesty International call on Pope to take a stand and lend his voice to Cubans left voiceless due to repression

28 March 2012

Cuban authorities round up activists and block communications as Pope ends visit
While the pope has toured the country, Cuban activists have been intimidated.© L'Osservatore Romano Vatican-Pool/Getty Images

Cuban human rights activists are facing a surge in harassment in a bid to silence them during the Pope's visit, Amnesty International said.

The clampdown has seen an increase in arrests, activists' phones have been disconnected and some have had their houses surrounded to prevent them denouncing abuses during Pope Benedict's tour.

Local human rights organizations, including the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, had their phone lines cut off since Monday. The mobile phones of prominent activists and government critics are suddenly unreachable.

“The communications’ blockade and the detention of more than 150 political opponents is yet another example of how authorities in Cuba completely disregard human rights,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

“The Cuban authorities must urgently stop harassing activists and ensure everybody in Cuba is free to voice their opinions so activists can carry out their legitimate activities,” said Javier Zúñiga.

“In view of this situation, which contradicts his appeal for a ‘more open society’ in Cuba, the Pope should take a stand and lend his voice to those that have been left voiceless due to the ongoing repression and condemn the lack of freedoms in Cuba.”

On Monday 26 March, dozens of government opponents were detained in Santiago de Cuba where the Pope gave a public mass at the start of his visit.

Police and state security officers also surrounded the homes of many opponents and kept them under siege preventing them from attending the Pope’s mass or moving freely.

Short-term detentions of government opponents, human rights activists and independent journalists are routine in Cuba. On the lead up to the Pope’s visit, hundreds of government opponents were detained for short-periods of time, threatened or prevented from traveling freely.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI's call to nonviolent action in Cuba

Pope Benedict XVI in Santiago, Cuba Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba is of immense significance on numerous levels: spiritual, historic and political. In preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ the Pope is also preaching the nonviolent nature of Christ's message and sacrifice which also informs the current situation in Cuba.

In the days leading up to the visit and presently there is a wave of repression along with increased restrictions on cell phone usage and home phone lines. Over a hundred Cuban opposition activists have been detained to prevent them attending the Papal Mass. Historically, Pope Benedict XVI's visit on the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of "La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre" has great significance because it was a predecessor, Benedict XV who in 1916 granted the request of veterans of the war of Cuban Independence to name her the patron saint of Cuba. It also underlines the fact that Cuba's catholic roots long predate the current totalitarian communist nightmare.

Univision News: Anti-communism protest during Pope's first mass in Cuba

The Pope's message is in sharp contrast to both the militaristic image and message projected by Raul Castro and the dictatorship. A low point captured on video by international media was the detention of a man who shouted "down with communism" who was taken away and beaten by men dressed in Red Cross uniforms prior to the Pope's mass in Santiago de Cuba. His whereabouts remain unknown.

Man in Cuba at Mass screams down with communism taken away and beaten by Globovision

Thus far the Pope on this visit to Mexico and Cuba has said a number of things of great interest to Cubans and all people of faith.

On Nonviolence

"Dear brothers and sisters, before the gaze of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, I appeal to you to reinvigorate your faith, that you may live in Christ and for Christ, and armed with peace, forgiveness and understanding, that you may strive to build a renewed and open society, a better society, one more worthy of humanity, and which better reflects the goodness of God. Amen." - Pope Benedict XVI , March 26, 2012 Santiago de Cuba, Plaza Antonio Maceo Square

Recognizing the just aspirations of all Cubans

"I come to Cuba as a pilgrim of charity, to confirm my brothers and sisters in the faith and strengthen them in the hope which is born of the presence of God’s love in our lives. I carry in my heart the just aspirations and legitimate desires of all Cubans, wherever they may be, their sufferings and their joys, their concerns and their noblest desires, those of the young and the elderly, of adolescents and children, of the sick and workers, of prisoners and their families, and of the poor and those in need." - Pope Benedict XVI , March 26, 2012 Antonio Maceo International Airport, Santiago de Cuba

Cuba looking to the future

"Dear friends, I am convinced that Cuba, at this moment of particular importance in its history, is already looking to the future, and thus is striving to renew and broaden its horizons. Of great help in this enterprise will be the fine patrimony of spiritual and moral values which fashioned the nation’s true identity, and which stand out in the work and the life of many distinguished fathers of the country, like Blessed José Olallo y Valdés, the Servant of God Félix Varela, and the acclaimed José Martí." - Pope Benedict XVI , March 26, 2012 Antonio Maceo International Airport, Santiago de Cuba

Church not a political power but has something to say about politics

"Naturally the church must always ask itself if it’s doing enough on behalf of social justice in this great continent. This is a question of conscience which we must always ask ourselves. That means asking what the church can and must do, and also which it can’t and shouldn’t do. The church is not a political power, it’s not a party, but it’s a moral power. Since politics fundamentally should be a moral enterprise, the church in this sense has something to say about politics. I repeat which I’ve already said: the first thought to the church is to educate conscience, thereby creating the necessary sense of responsibility. That means educating conscience in individual ethics as well as in public ethics, and perhaps that’s where the problem lies." - Pope Benedict XVI, March 23, 2012 with journalists during the flight to Mexico

On Church's approach to Cuba

As I’ve already said, I feel in absolute continuity with the words of the Holy Father John Paul II, which are still extremely relevant. That visit of this pope inaugurated a path of collaboration and constructive dialogue, a path which is long and demands patience, but which goes forward. Today it’s evident that the Marxist ideology as it was conceived does not correspond to reality, and thus a society cannot any longer be built upon it. New models must be found, with patience and in a constructive way. In this process, which demands patience but also determination, we want to help in a spirit of dialogue, in order to avoid new trauma, and to serve progress towards a fraternal and just society which we desire for the whole world. We want to cooperate in this sense. It’s obvious that the church will always be on the side of liberty: liberty of conscience, liberty of religion. We make a contribution in that sense, including the simple faithful who contribute to this progress going forward. - Pope Benedict XVI, March 23, 2012 with journalists during the flight to Mexico

Relevant to this conversation is the essay by Franciscan Friar, Daniel P. Horan citing Thomas Merton's writings on Christian nonviolence and explaining that at its heart it arises from the common good:
Nonviolence is perhaps the most exacting of all forms of struggle, not only because it demands first of all that one be ready to suffer evil and even face the threat of death without violent retaliation, but because it excludes mere transient self-interest, even political, from its consideration. In a very really sense, he [or she] who practices nonviolent resistance must commit himself [or herself] not to the defense of his [or her] own interests or even those of a particular group: he [or she] must commit himself [or herself] to the defense of objective truth and right and above all of [humanity]. His [or her] aims then not simply to “prevail” or to prove that he [or she] is right and the adversary wrong, or to make the adversary give in and yield what is demanded (Faith and Violence, 14).

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has recognized the just and deliberate aspirations of all Cubans. Also that since politics should fundamentally be a moral enterprise, the Pope recognizes that the Church has something to say about politics. His Holiness has stated that Marxist ideology does not correspond to reality and Cuba needs a different model. Furthermore that "armed with peace, forgiveness and understanding" Cubans may strive to achieve a better and more open society. The "arms" he outlined in his homily are the weapons of nonviolent civic action.

What went unmentioned was that the dialogue initiated by Blessed John Paul II in 1998 with the Cuban dictatorship must include the Cuban democratic opposition if the Church is to play a role as mediator between the different sides in this long running conflict.

In the short run this may not serve the Church's own interests due to the regime's violent anti-christian history but it would serve the common good. This is the underlying reason as to the importance of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI recognizing and meeting with the democratic Cuban opposition.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why I voted against a monument to Che Guevara and why you should as well

There is a debate underway in Ireland to erect a monument to Ernesto "Che" Guevara and their is also an online poll for people to vote in favor or against. I voted against and invite you to do so as well. Here is my reasoning as to the "no" vote.

Do you really want your community to be remembered for building a monument to a man who said in Havana on April 16, 1967 that “Hatred as an element of the struggle; a relentless hatred of the enemy, impelling us over and beyond the natural limitations that man is heir to and transforming him into an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine. Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy.”

Che Guevara’s call to action in a hemisphere with too many military juntas led to new military juntas in countries that had not known them before in their history: Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, and Uruguay all had their first long term military juntas after the Castro regime began exporting guerillas in 1959 and Guevarist ideology best summed up in Guevara’s Message to the Tricontinental. Other countries such as Chile, who had known a military junta between 1924 and 1931, in reaction to communist threats in 1973 embraced Augusto Pinochet who remained in power for seventeen years. With the exception of Nicaragua, Che Guevara’s prescription for revolution in Latin America led to a generation of military dictatorships and harsh repression. In Nicaragua it led to a Marxist dictatorship and civil war.

According to Irish writer Eilis O'Hanlon the bloody legacy of Che Guevara has also made its mark in Ireland in September of 2009 when a 600 pound bomb was diffused twice as large as the one that claimed 29 lives there a decade earlier.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara meets Mao Ze Dong
 Honoring a mass murderer who advocated a totalitarian system that took 100 million lives in the 20th Century is shameful. However Che Guevara went further advocating the placement of nuclear weapons in Cuba and advocating their use explaining: “What we affirm is that we must proceed along the path of liberation even if this costs millions of atomic victims.” The Argentine communist further claimed that "the people [of Cuba] you see today tell you that even if they should disappear from the face if the earth because an atomic war is unleashed in their names... they will feel completely happy and fulfilled." Guevara was upset that Kruschev had backed down in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and not launched a nuclear attack on the United States.

This is the individual some want to honor with a monument?

After Che Guevara who will be next: Carlos the Jackal, Josef Stalin or Adolph Hitler? Glorifying men who committed terrorism and mass violence serves only to glorify and encourage more violence and terrorism.

Why not build a monument to Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. or Leo Tolstoy instead?

Why not honor those who successfully fought injustice using just means?  Or honor the Cuban people the way they have honored the Irish people by building a monument to Cuban hunger strikers who have died defending human dignity and human rights in Cuba such as Pedro Luis Boitel, Roberto López Chávez, Carmelo Cuadra Hernández, Olegario Charlot Pileta, Enrique García Cuevas, Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Wilman Villar Mendoza in January of 2012?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sexual violence as a tool of political terror

The Cuban transition wears a skirt, its rhythm is marked by so many women who will achieve a more inclusive, maternal, free country :-) - Yoani Sanchez, on twitter March 8, 2012

"Tyrants with pathological cravings for power have organized campaigns of rape since ancient times, from Troy to Nanking and Sierra Leone to Cyprus, from East Pakistan to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and beyond. And yet, everyone ever convicted of orchestrating mass rape could be crowded into a single holding cell." - AIDS Free World, 2009

IACHR: Complaints of Attacks on Women Human Rights Defenders in Cuba Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

Listening to the report on Complaints of Attacks on Women Human Rights Defenders in Cuba presented on Friday afternoon during an audience before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by representatives of the Directorio Democrático Cubano, Madres y Mujeres Anti-Represión en Cuba, and the Coalition of Cuban-American Women raised concerns about the practices of the dictatorship in Cuba targeting women.

Laida Carro of the Coalition of Cuban-American Women summed up the purpose of their testimony: "We came to reiterate before the IACHR that it is inacceptable that in our hemisphere women who defend fundamental rights are discriminated against and subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment."

Janisset Rivero, of the Directorio Democrático Cubano highlighted a troubling trend stating that "Since 2011 a considerable increase in the practice of stripping naked, hurling sinuous words and sexual threats against the Ladies in White."

Laura Pollán, interviewed in the above video, died under mysterious circumstances on October 14, 2011

It is a troubling trend because at least two of the Castro brothers allies, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya have both used rape as a political weapon to terrorize women from participating in the political process. It appears that Cuban state security is testing similar tactics in order to see how the international community reacts and with each non-reaction push the envelope further.

For example, on March 1, 2012 a violent arrest was carried out against female members of the Rosa Parks Feminine Movement in the central city of Placetas who were attacked as they were protesting in front of the Cuban Communist Party Municipal Headquarters. Yris Perez Aguilera was beaten and arrested by officer Yuniel Monteagudo, who pulled down her pants inside the patrol car and threatened to rape her. The women remained under arrest until Saturday, March 3rd.

In the case of Libya the raping of women appears to have been conducted during an armed conflict. On the other hand in the case of Zimbabwe as in Cuba there is no armed conflict underway in the country.

Zimbabwe Rape Survivor 1

However there is plenty of documentation on the use of rape as a political weapon to silence women in Zimbabwe. AIDS-Free World in 2009 published a detailed report titled Electing to Rape: Sexual Terror in Mugabe's Zimbabwe which analyzed the situation there during the 2008 elections and the aftermath:
In the weeks immediately after the June 2008 presidential elections in Zimbabwe, AIDS-Free World received an urgent call from a Harare-based organization. The human rights activists were overwhelmed with reports from women associated with the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who had been raped by members of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party, ZANU-PF, in a vicious campaign to intimidate voters and emerge victorious in the presidential election. In response, AIDS-Free World undertook a series of investigative trips to the region with teams of lawyers to interview survivors of this violence. What emerged from the testimony was a brutal, orchestrated campaign of rape and torture perpetrated by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF youth militia, agents of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), and people who identify themselves as veterans of the liberation war (known as war veterans) affiliated with ZANU-PF. The exceptionally violent rapes, as described by women from every province of Zimbabwe, were often nearly fatal. Survivors’ terror was prolonged by fears that their attackers were among the 15% of adults infected with HIV in Zimbabwe.
Cuban women are in the vanguard of political change in the island and like the women in Zimbabwe are now a target of an entrenched and brutal dictatorship that is willing to do anything to remain in power. The world ignored Mugabe's brutalization of women in Zimbabwe and this led to the systematic use of rape as a political weapon against female human rights defenders and political activists. Trends in Cuba point to the possibility that the same tragic outcome could be repeated if the international community does not speak out early and often against the violence visited against Cuban women by the dictatorship on the island.

Stop rape now in Zimbabwe, Cuba and wherever else it arises.

"They can either kill us, put us in jail or release them. We will never stop marching no matter what happens." - Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, Ladies in White founder (February 13, 1948 – October 14, 2011)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Political Police summon Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet to police station tomorrow

"Cuba is a police state. Government agents spy on and harass anyone advocating for human rights. They beat and imprison anyone seeking peaceful political change." -Oscar Elías Biscet, March 20, 2012 in the Wall Street Journal

Political police at Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet's home today

Update: Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet tweeted from Cuba at 3:07 pm on March 23, 2012 (one day after political police went to his home with a summons for today at 9:00am ): "I refuse to go to the police station. The police are not for suppressing humanistic ideas but to protect the citizen."

Two days after the Wall Street Journal published his essay on the Pope's upcoming visit to Cuba, Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet is paid a visit today at his home in Havana. Elsa Morejon tweeting at 11:50am March 22, 2012 from Cuba: "Police are in my house; bring summons for Oscar." Moments later the above photo appears of Oscar Elias Biscet with two political police at his home followed by a photo of the "official summons" for tomorrow March 23, 2012 at 9:00am below.

Official summons delivered by political police today to Dr. Biscet

Amnesty International in their March 22, 2012 report said that the human rights "situation has further deteriorated with a steady increase in the number of arbitrary detentions." However the same report cites that this repression is constantly being challenged generating thousands of detentions. The power of twitter and the internet to break down the wall of censorship erected by the totalitarian regime in Cuba is one of the tools in evidence here that also provides proof that resistance is underway in Cuba. In breaking the silence and also offering images along with text opposition activists such as Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet and his wife Elsa Morejon find a measure of protection in the scrutiny visited on agents of the communist totalitarian regime in Cuba.

Oscar Elías Biscet and Elsa Morejon in Cuba 2012

Amnesty International: Sharp rise in harassment and attacks against activists and journalists in Cuba

Document - Cuba: Routine repression: Political short-term detentions and harassment in Cuba


Background 6

Short-term detention, harassment and intimidation of political opponents 8

Prisoners of conscience 11

The Ladies in White – Damas de blanco 14

Independent journalists 16

Recommendations 18


The Cuban government wages a permanent campaign of harassment and short-term detentions of political opponents to stop them from demanding respect for civil and political rights. Since Amnesty International’s last report on the respect for the freedom of expression in Cuba, published in June 2010, (Restrictions on freedom of expression in Cuba, Index: AMR 25/005/2010) the situation has further deteriorated with a steady increase in the number of arbitrary detentions. Criticism of the government is not tolerated in Cuba and it is routinely punished with arbitrary and short-term detentions, “acts of repudiation” (demonstrations led by government supporters with the alleged participation of state security officials aimed at harassing and intimidating government critics), intimidation, harassment and politically motivated criminal prosecutions.

The authorities continue to deny those wanting political change in Cuba their right to express and share their ideas freely and without reprisal or retaliation. Repression is routine. Peaceful demonstrators, independent journalists and human rights activists are routinely detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement. Activists are often detained as a preventive measure to stop them from attending public demonstrations or private meetings.

In spite of the repression, the restrictions to the exercise of these rights are continuously challenged across Cuba resulting in thousands of detentions. Two organizations monitoring human rights in Cuba reported on a monthly basis hundreds of short-term detentions during 2011.

Most of those detained in these circumstances may be prisoners of conscience even if they are released after a short period of detention, often only after a few hours. Of those currently in detention, the organization has recently adopted four prisoners of conscience who have been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of fundamental freedoms. Amnesty International is once again calling on the Cuban government to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience, whether or not they have been charged or tried.

In 2011, the release of dozens of political prisoners and the last remaining prisoners of conscience from the March 2003 crackdown did not herald a change in human rights policy. The vast majority of those released were forced into exile, while in Cuba the authorities were determined to contain the dissidence and government critics with new tactics. Intimidation, harassment, multiple detentions and restrictions on movement have been widely used against political opponents to stop them from carrying out their activities or as retaliation. Surveillance of government opponents is also commonplace. “Acts of repudiation” – demonstrations led by government supporters with the alleged participation of state security officials aimed at harassing and intimidating government critics – have become commonplace. Members of the movement Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) in particular were targeted in several locations in Cuba where the movement has representatives. Reports of ill-treatment and beatings during the acts of repudiation and detention have become a source of greater concern.

Cuba does not tolerate any criticism of the state outside the official mechanisms established under government control. Laws on “public disorder”, “contempt”, “disrespect”, “dangerousness” and “aggression”, are used to prosecute government opponents. No political or human rights organizations are allowed to obtain legal status. Trade unions and bar associations independent from those affiliated to the Cuban Communist Party are not permitted to operate legally and their members are subject to repressive measures. Any challenge to official policy invariably results in retaliatory action involving the violation of human rights.

To justify their arsenal of repressive laws and practices, Cuban officials continue to claim that political opponents act under the sponsorship or the influence of the United States government, and that their activities are a threat against national security, Cuba’s integrity and the revolution. Draconian legislation which was purportedly aimed at protecting Cuban sovereignty was introduced following the tightening of the United States´ economic embargo in the 1990s. Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the US government to lift its embargo, as it is highly detrimental to Cubans' enjoyment of a range of economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to food, health and sanitation. However, Amnesty International believes the activities carried out by Cuban political opponents constitute legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, assembly and association. In Cuba these freedoms are severely limited in law and in practice. Furthermore, regardless of US foreign policy towards Cuba, the Cuban authorities are solely responsible for the violations of civil and political rights. They must guarantee the protection of these universally recognized rights. The government must also recognize and allow the peaceful and legitimate expressions of dissent in Cuba.

Short-term detention, harassment and intimidation of political opponents

Short-term detentions of political and human rights activists and independent journalists are becoming more and more frequent. This practice further undermines respect for international principles and standards regarding deprivation of liberty and freedom of expression, association and assembly in Cuba.

The number of short-term detentions has risen sharply over the past 24 months. The ‘Hablemos Press’ Information Centre (Centro de Información Hablemos Press, CIHPRESS ), an unofficial news agency monitoring human rights abuses across Cuba has recorded a four fold increase in the number of reported arrests from 2009 to 2010 and a two-fold increase from 2010 to 2011. In 2011, the organization –which, like all groups deemed to be critical of the government, is denied official recognition – received reports of 3,835 detentions, varying monthly from 181 to 576 cases. Similarly, the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation (Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional, CCDHRN), received reports of 2,784 incidents of human rights abuses form January to September 2011, mostly short-term and arbitrary detentions. For the year 2010, the CCDHRN documented 2,074 such incidents.

Although the increase in reported cases could be partially attributed to better monitoring capacity and easier exchange of information concerning human rights abuses (due to greater access to mobile telephones), it is nevertheless undeniable that the Cuban authorities have stepped up repression against political opponents. The authorities do not tolerate outspoken criticism of government policies or abuses of civil and political rights. Officers of the National Revolutionary Police (Policía Nacional Revolucionaria, PNR) and of the Department of State Security (Departamento de Seguridad del Estado, DSE) routinely detain activists staging peaceful demonstrations in public spaces under the presumption they are creating ‘public disorder’. The use of excessive force by the authorities and beatings during the detention have been reported with increased frequency.

Detainees are normally held for a few hours or sometimes days in police stations or other detention centres, during which time they are often subjected to interrogations, intimidation, and threats. Beatings during detention have also been reported. Detainees are normally threatened with criminal charges or imprisonment if they do not cease their “counter-revolutionary” activities. Some detainees have been held for weeks without knowing the exact charges against them.

Ivonne Malleza Galano, Ignacio Martínez Montejo, along with Isabel Haydee Álvarez, were detained for 52 days without charge, following their participation in a peaceful anti-government demonstration on 30 November 2011. The authorities held Ivonne Malleza Galano in incommunicado detention for 10 days, without contact with the outside world including her family and lawyers. Only on 10 December was she allowed a phone call to inform family and friends of her whereabouts, and relatives were allowed to visit her on 12 December. Amnesty International adopted them as prisoners of conscience, solely detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. All three were released on 20 January 2012 without charge.

Reports of incommunicado detentions are becoming more frequent. For days at a time, the whereabouts of those detained are unknown to their relatives. The authorities fail to inform them of the reasons and the place of detention even if relatives go to different police stations inquiring about the whereabouts of those detained. Incommunicado detention violates the rights of the people deprived of their liberty and the Cuban authorities must stop holding detainees incommunicado. Individuals being held incommunicado may not be represented by a lawyer of their own choice. In addition, individuals held incommunicado do not have the right to communicate with a family member or other persons of their choice the fact and place of their detention and their families live in anxiety not knowing what has happened to them.

On 21 February 2012, former prisoner of conscience José Daniel Ferrer García was detained in Havana and held incommunicado, unable to inform his relatives or other persons of his choice of his whereabouts. He was transferred to a detention facility in the province of Camagüey the following day, and then on 24 February he was released without charge in his home province of Santiago de Cuba. While detained he was threatened with imprisonment if he continued his dissident activities as coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba, UNPACU), an umbrella group of dissident organizations based in eastern Cuba.

In January 2012, Iris Tamara Pérez Aguilera was detained on four occasions in Placeta, Villa Clara, during demonstrations calling for the release of prisoners of conscience Ivonne Malleza Galano, Ignacio Martínez Montejo, and Isabel Haydee Álvarez. In February, she was again detained twice during demonstrations calling for the release of Yasmín Conyedo Riverón and her husband Yusmani Rafael Álvarez Esmori both prisoners of conscience detained since 8 January 2012.

On Sunday 19 February 2012, 25 Ladies in White were arrested in the province of Santiago de Cuba to prevent them from attending mass at the shrine of Our Lady of Charity in the town of El Cobre. The security of state and the police have set up tight controls around the shrine where Pope Benedict XVI is expected to celebrate mass at the end of March during a three-day visit to Cuba. The Ladies in White fear that they will not be allowed to attend the event as a reprisal for their constant mobilization and criticism towards the government.

Acts of repudiation

Amnesty International believes that official encouragement is being given to pro-government supporters who harass and intimidate with impunity those who have been advocating political change by peaceful means.

Acts of repudiation (actos de repudio) are government coordinated demonstrations, usually carried out in front of the homes of political opponents, attended by government supporters, state officials and law enforcement agencies aimed at harassing and intimidating opponents and are often used to prevent them from traveling to participate in activities. During an act of repudiation, political opponents and human rights activists are subjected to verbal and physical abuse by groups of people chanting pro-government slogans. Police are usually present but fail to intervene to stop the assaults. Such incidents frequently involve the Rapid Response Brigades (Brigadas de Respuesta Rápida), a structure set up in 1991 and composed of Communist Party volunteers whose task is to deal with any sign of ‘counter-revolution’.

Local human rights activists and others believe these incidents are orchestrated by Cuba's security services to intimidate any opposition.

Acts of repudiation are normally followed by the arrest of those targeted. In January 2012, 40 political opponents were arrested following such events. Journalists reporting on the acts of repudiation and taking pictures have also been arrested. On 17 December, Eynor Díaz Allen, reporter for ‘Hablemos Press’ Information Centre in Guantánamo, was detained for 48 hours and had his camera seized by officials of the Department of Security of State. He was documenting an act of repudiation against Obayemi Grant Guerra, member of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy (Movimiento Cubano de Jóvenes por la Democracia)

Prisoners of conscience

At the time of this writing, Amnesty International has adopted four prisoners of conscience in Cuba: Antonio Michel Lima Cruz, Marcos Maíquel Lima Cruz, Yasmín Conyedo Riverón and her husband Yusmani Rafael Álvarez Esmori.

Prisoners of conscience Antonio Michel Lima Cruz and Marcos Máiquel Lima Cruz

Up to three years in prison for singing a protest song in the street

Brothers Antonio Michel Lima Cruz and Marcos Máiquel Lima Cruz have been imprisoned since Christmas Day 2010. Both are members of the Cuban Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs (Consejo de Relatores de Derechos Humanos de Cuba) – an island-wide umbrella group of organizations, and the Republican Youth Impact Movement (Movimiento Impacto Juvenil Republicano). They are both independent journalists, and were co-founders of the online newspaper Candonga, which was closed by the Cuban authorities in 2009.

The brothers were arrested in the early hours of 25 December 2010 as they were holding a Christmas celebration with a group of family and friends at their home in the city of Holguín, eastern Cuba. They were playing songs by a Cuban hip-hop group which criticize the lack of freedom of expression in the country, and were dancing whilst holding the Cuban flag on the street in front of their house. Shortly after midnight officials from the Department of State Security and police officers arrived, accompanied by about 40 government supporters. The police entered by force and arrested the brothers, while an act of repudiation was carried out against the others in the house. Later the same day, police returned and arrested their father and mother as well as several other friends who were at the family house at the time. They were detained for several days before being released without charge.

Following a summary trial, Antonio Michel and Marcos Máiquel were sentenced to two and three years imprisonment respectively in May 2011 for “insulting symbols of the homeland” (ultraje a los símbolos de la pátria) and “public disorder” (desórdenes públicos). They are currently both being held at the La Ladrillera prison in Holguín Province. Antonio Michel is suffering from prostrate problems and is reportedly not receiving sufficient medical treatment. He is also eligible for conditional release having served over half of his sentence, but the authorities have refused to respond to petitions from his family and lawyer. Their mother, Adisnidia Cruz Segredo, who is a member of the Ladies in White has repeatedly faced harassment from the authorities when attempting to travel to church on Sundays. She was detained for several hours by police on the morning of Sunday 26 February 2012, preventing her from attending mass with the other Ladies in White from Holguín Province.

Amnesty International believes Antonio Michel and Marcos Máiquel’s sentences to be politically motivated, relating to their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, and disproportionate to the alleged offences. The organization has adopted them as prisoners of conscience and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

Prisoners of conscience Yasmín Conyedo Riverón and Yusman I Rafael Álvarez Esmori

24 year-old Yasmín Conyedo Riverón and her 23 year-old husband, Yusmani Rafael Álvarez Esmori have been detained since 8 January 2012 on charges of using “violence or intimidation” against a state official (“atentado”), which carries a prison sentence of up to five years. Yasmín is the representative of the Ladies in White in the province of Villa Clara and also an independent journalist. Yusmani is a member of the Las Villas Democratic Youth League.

They were arrested on the morning of Sunday 8 January 2012 at their home in the city of Santa Clara, in the province of Villa Clara, central Cuba. Government supporters carried out an act of repudiation in front of their house, apparently to prevent Yasmín from attending mass with other Ladies in White. Yasmín and Yusnami were both arrested and held at local police stations, along with seven other Ladies in White until 4pm the same day. A neighbour who is a local official from the Cuban Communist Party (Partido Comunista de Cuba - PCC) accosted Yasmín as she was about to enter her home following her release. She insulted Yasmín and slapped her in the face. Yasmín’s aunt, who had emerged from Yasmín’s house, retaliated by slapping the PCC official in the face. Two police officers then proceeded to arrest Yasmín and Yusmani who had also just returned following his release from detention. Yasmín’s aunt has twice informed local authorities that it had been her who had slapped the PCC official, but they have refused to respond. The PCC official has herself asked the local public prosecutor to drop the charges against Yasmín and Yusnami.

Yasmín and Yusnami were also detained for several hours on 25 December 2011 as they tried to attend Christmas mass. Yasmín has a six year-old daughter. Amnesty International believes their detention and possible sentencing is in response to their peaceful dissident activities and is intended to send a message of intimidation to other government critics. The organization has therefore adopted them as prisoners of conscience and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

52 days of detention for protesting against poverty

Prisoners of conscience Ivonne Malleza Galano, Ignacio Martínez Montejo and Isabel Haydee Álvarez were held for 52 days without charge, following their participation in a peaceful anti-government demonstration.

On 30 November 2011, Ivonne Malleza Galano, a member of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco), and her husband Ignacio Martínez Montejo were arrested by police officers while they were staging a peaceful demonstration in Fraternity Park (Parque de la Fraternidad) in Havana. The protest was against hunger and poverty, and they were holding a banner with the slogan “stop hunger, misery and poverty in Cuba”.

Ivonne Malleza Galano was handcuffed and pushed into a police vehicle. Two police officers arrived, tried to confiscate the banner and detained her, along with Ignacio Martínez Montejo. Video footage posted on the internet shows Ivonne Malleza Galano being arrested by the police officers at Fraternity Park while the crowd gathered round her and asked the officers to release her. Isabel Haydee Álvarez, an onlooker watching the demonstration, was detained after protesting that the authorities should let the couple go.

Ivonne Malleza Galano, Isabel Haydee Álvarez and Ignacio Martínez Montejo were released without charge on 20 January. On their release, they were told by state security officials that they would face “harsh sentences” (“condenas severas”) if they continued their dissident activities. Amnesty International had adopted them as prisoners of conscience, as they were detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and had called for their immediate and unconditional release.

Death in custody

Prisoner of conscience Wilman Villar Mendoza died on 20 January 2012 in Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital in the city of Santiago de Cuba where he had been transferred from prison due to health problems arising during a hunger strike in protest at his unfair trial and imprisonment. He was 31 years old.

A member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba - UNPACU), he was arrested on 14 November 2011 for participating in a public demonstration against the Cuban government, in Contramaestre, Santiago de Cuba Province. Eight other members of UNPACU were also arrested during the demonstration.

During his detention, state security officers reportedly threatened to “disappear” him and pressured Wilman Villar Mendoza to stop his public protests and rescind his membership of the dissident group. They told him he would otherwise be brought to trial for contempt (“desacato”), resistance (“resistencia”) and violence or intimidation against a state official (“atentado”); all charges relating to a previous arrest in September 2011. Wilman Villar Mendoza was released on 17 November and then summoned to the Contramaestre Municipal Tribunal on 24 November, where he was tried in private. The judges did not accept his wife’s statement or that of any other witness called in his defence. Wilman Villar Mendoza’s wife was only allowed in the courtroom at the end of the trial.

Wilman Villar Mendoza was sentenced to four years in prison. He was transferred from Contramaestre Municipal Tribunal directly to Aguaderas Prison, in Santiago de Cuba. The same day, he started a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment and sentence. He stopped the hunger strike on 23 December and then resumed it six days later. Amnesty International had adopted Wilman Villar Mendoza as a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

The Ladies in White – Damas de Blanco

The Cuban government is waging a campaign of harassment and intimidation against the Ladies in White. The women’s organization was formed by a group of female relatives of the 75 prisoners of conscience who were imprisoned in March 2003 for their peaceful expression of critical opinions of the government. The group would attend mass every Sunday in the capital, Havana, dressed in white, to pray for the release of their relatives. Afterwards they would take part in a procession from the church to a nearby park, carrying white flowers.

A solidarity group called the Ladies in Support (Damas de Apoyo) subsequently emerged to support and participate in activities organized by the Ladies in White. In early 2012 the two groups merged and all members are now considered to be Ladies in White. After the release of all the prisoners of conscience from the March 2003 crackdown, the Ladies in White have been campaigning for the release of political prisoners and for the lifting of restrictions on fundamental civil and political freedoms in Cuba.

The Ladies in White have repeatedly suffered harassment and intimidation as they have attempted to carry out their peaceful activities. They are frequently subject to acts of repudiation by government supporters and members of the security forces, and also to short-term arbitrary detentions in order to disrupt their activities.

The authorities have continually prevented the Ladies in White from attending activities at the organization’s headquarters in central Havana. An event held there on 23 February 2012 to commemorate the second anniversary of the death on hunger strike of prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo was severely repressed. No one was allowed to enter the building since the morning before the event. The authorities diverted traffic from passing in front of the headquarters and stationed police officers to check the identification cards of all pedestrians passing through the area. On the afternoon of 23 February scores of government supporters massed for several hours in front of the building to carry out an act of repudiation, and shouted insults at the 40 Ladies in White already assembled inside. Many of them had travelled across the island and were afraid that if they attempted to leave they would be arrested, forcing them to remain inside until the following day. An event to celebrate Human Rights Day on 10 December 2011 was similarly repressed. In the days preceding Human Rights Day, 32 Ladies in White were detained and threatened with further arrest if they left their homes on 10 December to take part in activities. On Sunday 11 December, 48 Ladies in White were arrested during their weekly march on 5th Avenue, in Havana City, after they had attended mass at Santa Rita de Casia Church.

Since mid-2011, the Ladies in White have increased their activities in the eastern provinces of Cuba and have been subject to the increasing crackdown from the authorities on dissidence there, particularly in the province of Santiago de Cuba. This repression has been particularly focused on preventing the Ladies in White from traveling to attend Church services on Sundays, after which they usually carry out a silent march. The Ladies in White have been continually prevented from attending Sunday mass in the Cathedral of the city of Santiago de Cuba and in the nearby town of El Cobre. On the morning of Sunday 21 August, the home of Aimée Garcés Leyva in Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba province, was surrounded for several hours by approximately a hundred people, including police officers and government supporters. When Aimée Garcés Leyva and ten other Ladies in White tried to leave to travel to mass, police pushed them and pulled their hair before forcing them into buses. They were driven a few kilometers, then taken in police cars and dropped in their hometowns in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Holguín, often several kilometers from their houses. Similar repression against Ladies in White has been replicated in the neighboring provinces of Holguín, Granma and Guantánamo, with short-term detentions and repudiation acts being used to stop them attending mass and to celebrate events such as Human Rights Day.

In 2005, the Ladies in White were awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. However, representatives who were invited to attend the award ceremony in Strasbourg, France were refused permission to leave Cuba by the authorities. Authorization for Cuban citizens to travel outside the country is highly restricted and virtually impossible for those deemed to be critics of the government.

Independent journalists

Independent journalists in Cuba work constantly under threat of arbitrary detentions, intimidation and harassment by the authorities. As a result of restrictions on freedom of expression, independent journalists are unable to share independent information without facing direct repression from the authorities. Amnesty International is concerned at the detention of more than 65 independent journalists since March 2011 according to ‘Hablemos Press’ Information Centre. Some have been detained on several occasions.

José Alberto Álvarez Bravo, from Havana City, was detained 15 times between April and October 2011. On 12 July, State Security officials detained him at his house and confiscated his computer, USB flash drives, a digital camera, books and documents. He remained in detention for more than 72 hours. From 15 to 19 April during the VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, state security officials forbade him from leaving his home and prevented him from carrying on with his reporting on demonstrations organized by various dissident groups. He has been frequently detained on his way to Santa Rita de Casia Church, in Miramar, Havana City, where the Ladies in White congregate each Sunday.

Cuban independent journalists report on events or issues normally not covered by the state-run media such as reports on the repression and human rights abuses, testimonies from prisoners and prison conditions, economic and social conditions affecting the Cuban population. Independent journalists play a key role in investigating and exposing human rights violations committed by the Cuban security forces, and as such, they are the targets of continuous repression by the Cuban authorities.

In recent years, independent reporting from Cuba has flourished although the Cuban public has very limited access to that information. The state owns and controls all media outlets in Cuba and all means of distributing information. Independent journalists do not have access to state-run media and the internet is accessible to very few Cubans. Limited and restricted access to internet, mobile phones and off-line networks for sharing information such as distribution of USB flash drives or CDs with their reports, are some of the means used to distribute information and circumvent government controls.

Caridad Caballero Batista

More than 17 detentions since July 2011 for reporting on demonstrations and human rights abuses.

Caridad Caballero Batista is an independent journalist based in Holguín, eastern Cuba, a member of the unofficial Eastern Democratic Alliance (Alianza Democrática Oriental) and of the Ladies in White. Since 2006, Caridad Caballero Batista has been reporting on human rights abuses and living conditions in Cuba. Caridad Caballero Batista told Amnesty International that for years, the authorities have been subjecting her to constant harassment, intimidation and surveillance. Her phone, essential to carry out her work as journalist, is repeatedly disconnected as a way of putting extra pressure on her and preventing her from sending her reports.

Caridad Caballero Batista has been arbitrarily detained on several occasions due to her journalist activities and her involvement with the Ladies in White. She told Amnesty International that since the beginning of 2012, she has been detained 9 times, the latest on Sunday 4 March, on her way to church in Holguín. Her husband was detained with her and were both brought to Pedernales Detention Centre. They were released three hours later without charge. The intention was to prevent them from attending mass along with other Ladies in White.

On 24 May 2011, Caridad Caballero Batista was detained by state security officials at her home preventing her from attending the trial of Antonio Michel Lima Cruz and Marcos Máiquel Lima Cruz in Holguín. On several occasions she was detained on her way to Santiago de Cuba to attend mass with other Ladies in White. She told Amnesty International that she has been beaten and ill-treated by state security officials and government supporters during her detentions and has been threatened with charges under Law 88, the Law for the Protection of the National Independence and Economy of Cuba (Ley de Protección de la Independencia Nacional y la Economía de Cuba), the law under which most of the 75 prisoners of conscience from the March 2003 crackdown were sentenced. Despite being detained on numerous occasions, Caridad Caballero Batista has never been brought to trial. She has always been released after a few hours or a few days - the longest detention lasted 80 hours.


Amnesty International makes the following recommendations to the Cuban government aimed at ensuring greater respect for the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement. Important political decisions need to be made by the government in light of the violations detailed above, to secure protection of basic human rights and avoid any repetition of these violations. The rule of law must apply to all citizens, whatever their views, and the government must protect those involved in monitoring human rights violations, including members of human rights organizations, family members, witnesses, lawyers and journalists.

Amnesty International is calling on the Cuban authorities to:

Immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience who have been imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Cease the harassment, intimidation and persecution of human rights activists, independent journalists and government critics who peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

Ensure that no one is detained or imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, association and assembly. Anyone so detained should be released immediately and unconditionally.

Allow independent media outlets and journalists to operate freely, without fear of reprisal, unlawful restrictions and arbitrary prosecutions.

Ensure that everyone is informed, at the time of detention, of the specific reasons for their arrest.

End the practice of incommunicado detention as it violates the rights of people deprived of their liberty.

In accordance with international standards, all detainees should be permitted access to a lawyer of their choice immediately upon arrest and throughout the period of pre-trial detention, as well as to their family and, if necessary, a doctor.

Ensure that interrogation of detainees takes place in the presence of a defence counsel to ensure that statements taken in evidence from a detainee are given freely and not as a result of coercion.

Instruct the Rapid Response Brigades to immediately cease all repudiation and other acts of intimidation, harassment and attacks against those expressing views contrary to the government, their relatives and their homes. The Brigades’ activities should be strictly regulated by law.

Ensure that an independent and impartial inquiry is held into all allegations of ill-treatment by police, state security officials, members of the Rapid Response Brigades and that those involved in these allegations are sanctioned accordingly.

Withdraw or amend legislation which unduly restricts the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and movement to permit open public debate about human rights and government policies. In particular, Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to:

Review articles 53 and 62 of the Constitution and other legal provisions which unlawfully limit the right to freedom of expression with the aim to bringing them into line with international standards.

Amend provisions of the Penal Code, such as article 91, that are so vague that they lend themselves to abuse by state officials to restrict freedom of expression.

Revoke law 88 for the Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba, which facilitates the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience by unlawfully restricting the exercise of fundamental freedoms.

Ensure that legal restrictions on the formation and operation of political parties, NGOs and trade unions are lifted.

Ratify immediately and without limiting reservations, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Extend an invitation to visit the country to the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and allow them unfettered access to all individuals and groups of civil society.