Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Cuba: Three years of troubling trends

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and unfortunately the dictatorship in Cuba has been successful over the course of decades in covering up most of its misdeeds and seizing almost all evidence of its crimes, but over the past three years activists inside the island have been able to circumvent controls and provide evidence.

Below is a partial sampling of the regime's crimes and the visual evidence over the past three years.

Extrajudicial deaths with regime involvement

Orlando Zapata Tamayo
 The February 23, 2010 death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo attracted international attention after his previous seven years in prison as an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and a prolonged hunger strike failed to generate sufficient outrage to save his life. Denied water, in an effort to break his hunger strike, his kidneys failed and he died.

At the time of Orlando's death Oswaldo Payá spoke out: "Orlando Zapata Tamayo, dear brother, we will continue the fight, without hatred, but determined that until Cuba is free and Cubans are no longer suffering this shameful humiliation that is to live subdued by fear to a lie."

Laura Inés Pollán Toledo
A high profile death that occurred on October 14, 2011 just days after the Ladies in White declared themselves a human rights organization dedicated to the freedom of all political prisoners, not just their loved ones was extremely suspicious. Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, one of the founders of the Ladies in White in March of 2003 and its chief spokeswoman was widely admired inside of Cuba and internationally. She fell suddenly ill and died within a week in a manner that a Cuban medical doctor described as "painful, tragic and unnecessary."

Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas
On July 22, 2012 Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero died in a suspicious car accident while traveling through Bayamo, Cuba. Further evidence that the "car accident" was a premeditated act arranged to get rid of Oswaldo was that this was not the first attempt; another vehicle had targeted him and his wife 20 days earlier while he was in Havana.Oswaldo Payá was the author of the Varela Project, a citizen initiative that in 2002 had forced the dictatorship to change the Cuban Constitution to make it untouchable. In the months prior to his death he had denounced an ongoing campaign by the regime to engage in a fraudulent change and he was naming names.

Over half a century later the body count of the Cuban dictatorship continues to rise.

Beatings and mutilations

Berenice Héctor González
 Berenice Héctor González, a 15-year old young woman, suffered a knife attack on November 4, 2012 for supporting the women's human rights movement, The Ladies in White. News of the attack only emerged a month later because State Security had threatened the mother that her daughter would suffer the consequences if she made the assault public.

Marina Montes Piñón

Marina Montes Piñón, a 60 year old woman and long time opposition activist, was beaten with a blunt object by regime agents on December 15, 2012 in Cuba. The end result was three deep wounds in the skull and a hematoma in the right eye. She needed nearly thirty stitches to patch up the wounds.

 New prisoners of conscience

Ulises González Moreno and Calixto Ramon Martinez
Cuban labor union activist Ulises González Moreno was sentenced on November 28, 2012 to two years in prison for his labor organizing activities under the charge of "dangerousness" in a trial whose outcome had already been decided beforehand. A day prior to the trial state security agents offered him his freedom in exchange for becoming an informant spying on his fellow labor organizers. He turned down their offer. The sentence was ratified on December 20, 2012

At the end of 2012 there is one journalist imprisoned in all of Latin America, and he is a Cuban prisoner of conscience. Calixto Ramon Martinez is 42 years old and is from  El Jíbaro de San Ramón, a small town at the outskirts of the Sierra Maestra in Granma province in Cuba. In 2009 he co-founded Hablemos Press with Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez with objective of "breaking the wall of silence and censorship" in Cuba. State security agents arrested Calixto near José Martí International Airport in Havana on September 16, 2012 where he was reporting on two tons of medicine and medical equipment that had been damaged, according to Committee to Protect Journalists sources and news reports.

Troubling trends

Three years of troubling trends in Cuba that many have ignored. There are new prisoners of conscience which is nothing new but a tragic status quo that some had prognosticated would change under Raul Castro. Change has taken place but for the worse on the human rights front. The beatings and mutilations of activists and their sympathizers have coincided with a massive rise in arbitrary detentions that reached 6,602 in 2012.  Even more troubling there has been a rise in the suspicious deaths of human rights defenders in and out of custody of state security. Over the past two years figures with great international prestige have died under strange circumstances. 

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