Friday, March 31, 2017

Family jailed for not mourning Castro's death declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty

Twin sisters, their mom and their brother jailed for leaving their home during the period of mourning for Fidel Castro have been recognized as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International

Anairis,Adairis Miranda Leyva, Maydolis Leyva Portelles, Fidel Manuel Batista Leyva

UA: 76/17 Index: AMR 25/6001/2017 Cuba Date: 31 March 2017


Two days after Fidel Castro’s death, a family of four human rights defenders were arrested in Holguín, south-east Cuba. They received a one-year sentence, and the three siblings are currently on hunger strike. They are prisoners of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally.

Twin sisters Anairis and Adairis Miranda Leyva, their brother, Fidel Manuel Batista Leyva, and their mother, Maydolis Leyva Portelles, all human rights defenders, were arrested on 27 November 2016, two days after the death of Fidel Castro for allegedly leaving their house during the period of state mourning. The initial arrests took place in Holguín and coincided with an “act of repudiation” (acto de repudio), a government-led demonstration that is common in Cuba, carried out at the family’s home. The family are government critics, known for their activism and associated with a number of political and human rights movements including Movimiento Cubano de Reflexión (Cuban Reflection Movement). According to Maydolis Leyva Portelles, currently under house arrest, there were many non-uniformed state security officials, including political police and military officials, present during the arrest.

Maydolis Leyva Portelles and her children were charged under Article 204 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes defamation of institutions, organizations and heroes and martyrs of the Republic of Cuba, and with public disorder. On 13 January, a court of second instance upheld a one-year prison sentence for all three siblings, but allowed their mother to carry out her sentence under house arrest in order to care for her grandchildren, Adairis’ children.

According to their mother, the three siblings began a hunger strike on 7 March, the day they began serving their sentences and were imprisoned. The siblings are currently being held in three separate hospitals in critical condition. Doctors informed their mother that Adairis is at risk of a heart attack and that Fidel is urinating blood; and that all have lost significant weight. On her last hospital visit, Maydolis Leyva Portelles says that she was asked to sign a document which would authorize doctors to force feed her three children, which she refused to do. She told Amnesty International, “I don’t want any of my children to die, but I want to respect their wishes.” All three siblings and their mother are prisoners of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:
  • Calling on the authorities to release Anairis Miranda Leyva, Adairis Miranda Leyva, and Fidel Manuel Batista Leyva immediately and unconditionally from imprisonment and Maydolis Leyva Portelles from house arrest, as they are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression;
  • Calling on them to refrain from using measures to punish hunger strikers or to coerce them to end a hunger strike, which would be a violation of their right to freedom of expression.
  • Urging them to provide the siblings with access to qualified health professionals providing health care in compliance with medical ethics, including the principles of confidentiality, autonomy, and informed consent.
President of the Republic
Raúl Castro Ruz Presidente de la República de Cuba
La Habana, Cuba Fax: +41 22 758 9431 (Cuba Office in Geneva); +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN) Email: (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Your Excellency
Attorney General Dr. Darío Delgado Cura Fiscal General de la República Fiscalía General de la República Amistad 552, e/Monte y Estrella Centro Habana, La Habana, Cuba Salutation: Dear Attorney General/ Señor Fiscal General
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date. 

According to its webpage, El Movimiento Cubano de Reflexión is a non-violent organization which aims to mobilize Cuban citizens to bring about social change.
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a Cuban-based human rights NGO not recognized by the state, documented a monthly average of 827 politically motivated detentions in 2016.
Provisions of the Cuban Criminal Code, such as contempt of a public official (desacato), resistance to public officials carrying out their duties (resistencia) and public disorder (desórdenes públicos) are frequently used to stifle free speech, assembly and association in Cuba.
Article 204 of the Cuba Penal Code criminalizes “defamation of institutions, organizations and heroes and martyrs of the Republic of Cuba.” (Difamación de las instituciones y organizaciones y de los héroes y mártires). Under the law, anyone who publically defames, denigrates or disparages institutions of the Cuban Republic, or political organizations, or heroes or martyrs of the homeland, risks sanctions of deprivation of liberty of three months to a year or a fine.
Under international law, the use of defamation laws with the purpose or effect of inhibiting legitimate criticism of the government or public officials violates the right to freedom of expression.
Name: Anairis and Adairis Miranda Leyva (f), Fidel Manuel Batista Leyva (m), Maydolis Leyva Portelles (f)
Gender m/f: all
UA: 76/17 Index: AMR 25/6001/2017 Issue Date: 31 March 2017


Obama - Kerry Foreign Policy Legacy: Chickens coming home to roost in Venezuela

The downward spiral continues in Venezuela

Dictator Maduro with his puppet court in Venezuela
  Venezuela has been a dictatorship for sometime under the Maduro regime and the Venezuelan judiciary has not been an independent body for years meaning that the rule of law has long been absent.

Therefore the decision of the Venezuelan Supreme Court to strip the powers of the Venezuelan National Assembly and repeal the immunity of its members while further expanding the powers of the executive should come as no surprise. Venezuelan democrats have been under fire for years. Many, like Leopoldo Lopez, have been unjustly imprisoned.

 Nor is the continuing downward spiral into greater misery for Venezuelans a surprise because it is the natural outcome of "21st Century Socialism" which bears a striking resemblance to 20th Century Communism.

Dictator Nicolas Maduro and Secretary of State John Kerry
We are witnessing in the tragic developments in Venezuela the fruits of Secretary of State John Kerry's diplomatic strategy in that South American country.  It was Secretary Kerry who said on August 20, 2015 that "the United States and Cuba are talking about ways to solve the Venezuelan crisis." This implied that the U.S. was on board with Maduro continuing in power in Venezuela while trying to find ways to stabilize the country.

Embracing Chavez in 2009 and Castro in 2014 did not help Demoracy in Venezuela

President Obama early on in his presidency began his outreach to the Venezuelan regime of Hugo Chavez and the Cuban regime of the Castro brothers.

Hopefully this approach will change with the new administration in the White House and there is reason for hope as democracies in the Americas have finally spoken up to express their alarm with the course of action take by the Maduro regime. Let us pray that this will not be another case of too little, too late.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

20 years without justice for Danish student gunned down in Havana by a soldier

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." - Elie Wiesel, Nobel Lecture 1986

Joachim Løvschall: December 7, 1970 - March 29, 1997

 Joachim Løvschall was studying Spanish in Havana in the spring of 1997. He was gunned down by a soldier of the Castro regime in Havana, Cuba twenty years ago today on March 29, 1997. The identity of the soldier has never been revealed to Joachim''s family. No one has been brought to justice. Joachim's family is not satisfied with the official explanation.

The last time they saw Joachim 
On March 28, 1997 Joachim Løvschall ate his last dinner with white wine in a little restaurant called Aladin, located on 21st street in Havana. He went to the Revolutionary Plaza and bought a ticket to the Cuban National Theater. Following the performance he went to the theater's bar, Cafe Cantate, and met up with two Swedish friends. They each drank a couple of beers, but soon left because Joachim did not like the music. At 23:30, they said good bye to each other on the sidewalk in front of Cafe Cantate. 

Joachim was never seen alive again. 

The Castro regime's version of what happened

On September 28, 1997 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published an article by Kim Hundevadt titled "Dangerous Vacation" that outlined what happened to Joachim Løvschall and presented the Castro dictatorship's version of the events leading to this young man's death:

Around 23:30, a person matching Joachim Løvschall's description was in a bar named Segundo Dragon d'Oro. The bar lies in the hopeless part of town, around the Revolutionary Plaza which is dominated by ministry and other official buildings of harsh concrete architecture, and lies empty in at night.
At 2:45am he left the bar, after becoming intoxicated. Around 20 minutes later, he was walking down the Avenue Territorial, behind the Defense Ministry.

Joachim Løvschall walked, according to the Cuban authorities, first on the sidewalk that lies opposite the Ministry. Midway he crossed over to the other sidewalk, considered to be a military area, though it is not blocked off.

The Cubans have explained that Joachim Løvschall was shouted at by two armed guards, who in addition fired warning shots, which he did not react to. Therefore, one guard shot from the hip with an AK-47 rifle. The first shot hit Joachim in the stomach and got him to crumble down. The second shot hit slanting down the left side of the neck.

Joachim Løvschall gunned down in Cuba in 1997

Ten years ago
On June 12, 2007 Christian Løvschall, Joachim's father, at a parallel forum at the United Nations Human Rights Council spoke about his son's disappearance and the struggle to find out if Joachim was dead or alive:
"Although the killing took place on the 29th of March, we only came to know about it on the 6th of April - i.e. after 8 days were we had the feeling that the Cuban authorities were unwilling to inform anything about the incident. Only because of good relations with Spanish speaking friends in other Latin American countries did we succeed in getting into contact with the family with whom Joachim stayed and the repeated message from their side was that they could reveal nothing, but that the situation had turned out very bad and that we had to come to Cuba as soon as possible. At the same time all contacts to the responsible authorities turned out negatively... Only after continued pressure from our side on the Cuban embassy in Copenhagen, things suddenly changed and the sad information was given to us by our local police on the evening of the 6th of April. We are, however, 100% convinced that had we not made use of our own contact and had we not continued our pressure on the embassy in Copenhagen, we might have faced a situation where Joachim would have been declared a missing person, a way out the Cuban authorities have been accused of applying in similar cases."
 Ten years later Christian Løvschall outlined what he knew concerning his son's untimely death:
We do feel we were (and still are) left with no answers except to maybe one of the following questions: Where, When, Who, Why Starting out with the where we were told that Joachim was killed by the soldiers outside the Ministry of Interior.
What we do not understand is why no fence or signs did inform that this is a restricted area? I have been on the spot myself, and the place appears exactly like a normal residential area. So you may question whether this in fact was the place of the killing? Contrary to this the authorities keep maintaining that the area was properly sealed off, and the relevant sign posts were in place.
As to when Joachim was killed we only have the information received from the police because of the delay informing one might believe that this is another forgery made up to cover the truth.
The who was in our opinion has never been answered by the Cuban authorities. We understand that a private soldier on duty was made responsible for the killing, and also it has been rumored that his officer in charge has been kept responsible. This is of course the easy way out, but why can't we get to know the whole and true story?   
Why did the soldiers have to fire two shots, one to his body and one to his head, to murder him? Was Joachim violent and did he, an unarmed individual, attack the armed soldiers? Or is it simply that the instruction to Cuban soldiers are: first you shoot and then you ask? But again: Who can explain why two shots were needed?
Despite the claims made by the travel industry there have been other travelers to Cuba who have been killed or gone missing under suspicious circumstances.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Cuba: Further information: Defender sentenced after criticizing Castro: Dr Eduardo Cardet Concepción

Amnesty International has updated its Urgent Action for Cuban prisoner of conscience Eduardo Cardet and extended it to May 8, 2017.

Further information on UA: 32/17 Index: AMR 25/5979/2017 Cuba Date: 27 March 2017

Cuban authorities sentenced human rights defender Eduardo Cardet to three years in prison after holding him in provisional prison in Holguín, south-east Cuba, since November 2016. He is a prisoner of conscience who must be released immediately and unconditionally.

Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, MCL) since 2014 was sentenced to three years in prison on 20 March. He was arrested in Holguín on 30 November 2016, five days after the death of the former leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro. He has since been held in the provisional prison (prisión provisional) of Holguín and will remain there while he carries out the appeals.

Eduardo Cardet was charged with attacking an official of the state (atentado) after he publicly criticized Fidel Castro a few days after his death. Prior to his arrest, Eduardo Cardet had given interviews published in international media in which he had been critical of the Cuban government. In an interview with Madrid-based radio station esRadio, aired two days before his arrest, he described the mourning in Cuba following the death of Fidel Castro as imposed, and said: “Castro was a very controversial man, very much hated and rejected by our people”. His lawyer has until 31 March to file an appeal.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:
  • Calling on the authorities to release Dr. Eduardo Cardet immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression; 
  • Calling on them to guarantee the peaceful right to freedom of expression, assembly and association including for dissident, opponent or activist voices and to repeal all legislation which unduly limits these rights; 
  • Urging them to ensure that, pending his release, he is provided with any medical care he may require; that he is not tortured or otherwise ill-treated; and that he is granted regular access to family and lawyers of his choosing.


President of the Republic Raúl Castro Ruz  Presidente de la República de Cuba La Habana, Cuba  Fax: +41 22 758 9431 (Cuba Office in Geneva); +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN) Email: (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)  Salutation: Your Excellency

Attorney General  Dr. Darío Delgado Cura  Fiscal General de la República Fiscalía General de la República  Amistad 552, e/Monte y Estrella  Centro Habana, La Habana, Cuba  Salutation: Dear Attorney General/ Señor Fiscal General

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below: Name Address 1 Address 2 Address 3 Fax Fax number Email Email address Salutation Salutation 

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date. This is the first update of UA 32/17. Further information:

Sunday, March 26, 2017


Christian Democrat Organization of America (ODCA) in Spanish represents 34 political parties that span the Americas. ODCA issued the following statement today demanding the release of its Vie-President in Cuba Eduardo Cardet.


The leader of the Christian Movement for Liberation (MCL) and ODCA Vice-President, Eduardo Cardet, was recently convicted by the Cuban authorities of three years in prison accused of "assault on authority." The opposition leader had been beaten and detained, during Fidel Castro's funeral proceedings, on November 30 in Holguín province.

Before this new determination against the Cuban dissidence, the Christian Democratic Organization of America states:

  1. We demand the immediate release of Dr. Eduardo Cardet, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement and Vice-President of ODCA, who has been leading a social and political movement that nonviolently struggles for democracy and more freedoms for Cuba. 
  2.  We understand that this new impulse to repress political dissidence is a mechanism to intimidate the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) and block the initiative "One Cuban, One Vote" that they presented to the National Assembly of People's Power in Havana.
  3. ODCA reiterates its historic position in favor of respect for the human rights and public liberties of Cuban opponents seeking to peacefully promote a process of democratization in Cuba, a struggle historically promoted by Christian Democratic leaders such as Oswaldo Payá, who died in 2012 under circumstances not clarified, and led today by Eduardo Cardet.
  4. ODCA denounces the practices of the Cuban State that violate human rights to repress and frighten political dissidents and humanitarian organizations, including beatings, threats, surveillance, harassment, arbitrary detentions, summary trials that do not comply with the principles of due process, and imprisonment.
  5.  Three months ago, the international community celebrated the 68th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the favorable vote of Cuba and 47 other member states. In that context, we reiterate the call for Cuban authorities to respect human rights, civil and political liberties and the physical integrity of dissident political leaders, as mandated by that international commitment.
  6.  ODCA joins Amnesty International's demand for freedom, which has declared our Vice President Eduardo Cardet "a prisoner of conscience" for being imprisoned "solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression." At the same time, ODCA issues a call for subscribing of the MCL Campaign "Freedom and Life for Eduardo Cardet".
  7.  Finally, ODCA reaffirms that the right of all Cubans to decide freely and sovereignly the future of their country is the only way to move towards a tolerant, plural, free and democratic Cuba.
Santiago de Chile, March 26, 2017

Francisco Javier Jara
Executive Secretary ODCA

Original Spanish text below


El dirigente del Movimiento Cristiano de Liberación (MCL) y Vicepresidente de ODCA, Eduardo Cardet, fue condenado recientemente por las autoridades cubanas a tres años de cárcel acusado de “atentado a la autoridad”. El líder opositor había sido golpeado y detenido, en el marco de los funerales de Fidel Castro, el pasado 30 de noviembre en la provincia de Holguín.

Ante esta nueva determinación contra la disidencia cubana, la Organización Demócrata Cristiana de América, declara:

  1. Demandamos la inmediata liberación del Dr. Eduardo Cardet, líder del Movimiento Cristiano de Liberación y Vicepresidente de ODCA, quien se ha caracterizado por encabezar un movimiento social y político que lucha pacíficamente por la democracia y más libertades para Cuba.

  1. Entendemos este nuevo impulso a la represión de la disidencia política como un mecanismo para amedrentar al Movimiento Cristiano Liberación (MCL) y bloquear la iniciativa “Un Cubano, un Voto” que presentaron ante la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular en la Habana.

  1. La ODCA reitera su posición histórica a favor del respeto a los derechos humanos y las libertades públicas de los cubanos opositores que buscan promover pacíficamente un proceso de democratización en Cuba, lucha que ha sido impulsada históricamente por líderes demócrata cristianos como Oswaldo Payá, fallecido el 2012 en circunstancias no aclaradas, y liderada hoy por Eduardo Cardet.

  1. La ODCA denuncia las prácticas violatorias a los Derechos Humanos del Estado cubano para reprimir y atemorizar a los disidentes políticos y a las organizaciones humanitarias, entre ellas, las golpizas y amenazas, los seguimientos y hostigamientos, las detenciones arbitrarias, los juicios sumarios que no cumple con los principios del debido proceso y el encarcelamiento.

  1. Hace 3 meses, la comunidad internacional celebró los 68 años de la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos aprobada con el voto favorable de Cuba y otros 47 Estados miembros. En ese contexto, reiteramos el llamado a las autoridades cubanas a respetar los derechos humanos, las libertades civiles y políticas y la integridad física de los dirigentes políticos disidentes, tal como lo mandata ese compromiso internacional.

  1. La ODCA se une a la demanda de libertad de Amnistía Internacional que ha declarado a nuestro vicepresidente Eduardo Cardet como “prisionero de conciencia” por estar encarcelado “solamente por el ejercicio pacífico de su derecho a la libertad de expresión”.  Al mismo tiempo, la ODCA formula un llamado a suscribir la Campaña del MCL “Libertad y Vida para Eduardo Cardet”.

  1. Finalmente, la ODCA reafirma que el derecho de todos los cubanos a decidir libre y soberanamente el futuro de su país es la única vía para avanzar hacia una Cuba tolerante, plural, libre y democrática.

Santiago de Chile, 26 de marzo de 2017

Francisco Javier Jara
Secretario Ejecutivo ODCA

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Travel agencies getting sued for misrepresenting conditions in Cuba to tourists

Travel agencies rosy picture of Cuba has a legal downside

Paradisus Rio de Oro in Holguin: what travel agencies show (left) what tourists see (right)
Lonely Planet pitches Cuba as "old school cool" and an "escape from the hustle and bustle" but at the bottom of the web page has one line of caution: "The US Center for Disease Control has issued a travel alert suggesting that pregnant women postpone travel to Cuba due to the presence of the zika virus." The Castro regime has a poor history of timely reporting of epidemics on the island, placing tourists at risk.  Canada's Sunwing travel agency pitches Cuba as "Paradise…with a history." However it fails to mention that the resort they were sending tourists to in Cuba had "water problems" which meant little or no water for at least 12 days according to a March 22, 2017 Global News article. In a follow up article on March 24th Global news reported on  the Starfish Cayo Santa Maria resort in Cuba:
Travellers told Global News they had little or no fresh water for their entire trip to the resort, making it impossible to flush toilets, take showers or wash their hands.
Some, like Donna Carvalho of Georgetown, Ont., returned to Canada and went almost immediately to hospital with severe diarrhea, vomiting and an excruciating headache. Carvalho was placed in isolation for five hours and released after she said doctors concluded she had likely become ill from unsanitary conditions at the resort.
Carvalho said she witnessed the hotel restaurant using a “dirty rag” to clean dishes, cutlery and glassware in lieu of a dishwasher. Other travellers described similar nauseating experiences.
The Canadian government has said that the ill served tourists, many of whom returned home very sick can sue the travel agency.  It is not only Sunwing that needs to worry about a lawsuit but also the British based Thomas Cook travel agency.  James and Kathryn Longhurst booked their dream honeymoon to Cuba for a two-week all-inclusive getaway in Paradisus Rio de Oro in Holguin, Guardalavaca that cost the newlywed couple $6,235.     Three days in, Mr Longhurst fell so ill his tongue turned black. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was given injections and put on IV drips. Returned home and continued to feel ill. They are now suing Thomas Cook.  Mrs. Longhurst also became ill. The newlyweds cited "filthy conditions" as the cause of the illness observing in a March 23rd article in The Sun that "dining restaurants were poorly kept with food not “covered properly”, “insects and birds” flying around the buffet area, staff not wearing gloves while handling food and the same utensils used for different dishes."

James Longhurst was put on an IV drip on his honeymoon
Tourism was supposed to be a magic bullet that would help to open up Cuba, but the reality has been more of a mixed bag with some unexpected downsides for everyday Cubans while strengthening the most repressive elements in the island. However at the same time tourists visiting the island on more than one occasion have encountered the real Cuba that the Castro regime spends considerable resources trying to conceal from outsiders. Nevertheless news accounts emerge that should give prospective visitors pause.

It is true that tourism provides hard currency to the Cuban military, that runs the tourism industry on the island shoring up the dictatorship, but not expected was that it would also generate food shortages among everyday Cubans as The New York Times reported on December 8, 2016.

Foreign tourists misled by travel agencies can seek justice and exercise their rights back home, but not in Cuba. Meanwhile Cubans have less access to food while the military and the Castro regime get richer off of foreign tourists prolonging the life of the dictatorship.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cuba: Activist sentenced to three years in jail after criticising Fidel Castro

Husband, father of two, and physician sentenced to three years in prison for expressing himself
Eduardo Cardet Concepción, Cuban prisoner of conscience
Amnesty International, 21 March 2017

A three year sentence against the leader of a Christian pro-democracy movement after he criticized Fidel Castro is a stark illustration of ongoing restrictions to the right to free expression in Cuba, said Amnesty International.

Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano Liberación, MCL) was sentenced on Monday 20 March, his wife told Amnesty International.

He was charged with attacking an official of the state (atentado) after he publicly criticized former Cuban leader Fidel Castro a few days after his death. During an interview with Madrid-based radio station esRadio, aired two days before his arrest, Cardet described the mourning in Cuba following the death of Fidel Castro as imposed, and said: “Castro was a very controversial man, very much hated and rejected by our people.”  His lawyer has ten days to file an appeal.

“For decades, the Cuban authorities have harassed and intimidated members of the Christian Liberation Movement in a attempt to silence any dissenting ideas,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“Despite some recent openness, we see how the Cuban authorities continue to control free expression. It is beyond belief that people are still routinely arrested for criticizing a politician or for writing an opinion on a wall – as was the case of graffiti artist Danilo ‘El Sexto’ Maldonado.  Sadly, Cuban courts continue to fail to provide a rigorous check and balance to executive powers.”

“There is no doubt that Dr Cardet is a prisoner of conscience, put behind bars for speaking his mind. He must not be made to spend a second longer in jail.”

Provisions of the Cuban Criminal Code, such as contempt of a public official (desacato), resistance to public officials carrying out their duties (resistencia) and public disorder (desórdenes públicos) are frequently used to stifle free speech, assembly and association in Cuba.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a Cuban-based human rights NGO not recognized by the state, documented a monthly average of 827 politically motivated detentions in 2016.

The Christian Liberation Movement (Movimento Cristiano Liberación, MCL) is a prominent actor in the pro-democracy movement in Cuba. According to its website, it is a movement for peaceful and democratic change and respect for human dignity. It was founded in 1988 by Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who became a visible figure of the Cuban political opposition, and four other activists.

Amnesty International has documented harassment and intimidation of members of the MCL for decades. In 1991, after Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas presented a petition calling for a national referendum relating to constitutional reform, he had his home destroyed by over 200 people, said to be members of a Rapid Response Brigade. After Oswaldo Payá announced his intention to put himself forward as a candidate for deputy to the National Assembly for the municipality of Cerro, Havana, members of his organization were reportedly subjected to frequent questioning and short-term detention.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mother and son of 2015 machete attack victim receive death threat from Castro regime agent

"I am obliged to once again denounce the dictatorial regime of the Castros, this time as a mother and human rights defender." - Sirley Avila Leon, March 20, 2017

Sirley Avila Leon denounces death threats against her son and mom
Las Tunas, Cuba: Yoerlis Peña Ávila on March 15, 2017 received a death threat against him and his grandmother, Sirley Leon Aguilera, for being family (son and mother respectively) of Sirley Avila Leon, who was the victim of a May 24, 2015 machete attack carried out by a regime collaborator that left her permanently disabled. The threat is in response to her legal demand presented to recover 126,000 Cuban pesos ($4754) in damages resulting from the attack.

On March 15, 2017 he was able to send an e-mail to his mother that described what had happened that same day: "I was working and a man that I do not know told me that it was better that the legal demand not be continued because you did not know the risk in which you were exposing me and my grandmother that for you to suffer they could attack us."

Four days earlier on March 11, 2017  Sirley Avila Leon had contacted her son, and again on March 13th on both occasions they discussed the legal action being pursued, but then found it increasingly difficult to communicate. It appears that the Castro regime does not want this legal action to be pursued and is using intimidation to try to shut it down.

There is good reason to be concerned with this pattern of threats and harassment. Over a three year period (2012 - 2015) regime agents made a series of threats and took actions that culminated in the attempted murder of Sirley Avila Leon on May 24, 2015. Another round of threats and harassment when she returned to Cuba on September 7, 2016 following medical treatment in Miami  led to her decision to leave Cuba on October 28, 2016 and request asylum in the United States when death threats against her person escalated and her attacker, Osmany Carriòn, was free and bragging that he would finish the job he started.

Sirley Avila Leon is asking democratic representatives, human rights organizations, and members of international organizations and all people of goodwill to urge the Cuban government to investigate the threat made against her son and mother.

Background information
Sirley Ávila León was a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power in Cuba from June 2005, for the rural area of Limones until 2012 when the regime gerrymandered her district out of existence. The Castro regime removed her from her position because she had fought to reopen a school in her district, but been ignored by official channels and had reached out to international media. Her son, Yoerlis Peña Ávila, who had an 18 year distinguished career in the Cuban military was forced out when he refused to declare his mother insane and have her committed to a psychiatric facility.

Sirley joined the ranks of the democratic opposition and repression against her increased dramatically. On May 24, 2015 she was the victim of a brutal machete attack carried out by Osmany Carriòn, with the complicit assistance of his wife, that led to the loss of her left hand, right upper arm nearly severed, and knees slashed into leaving her crippled. Following the attack she did not receive adequate medical care and was told quietly by medical doctors in Cuba that if she wanted to get better that she would need to leave the country.

On March 8, 2016 she arrived in Miami and began a course of treatments over the next six months during which she was able to walk once again although still limited due to her injuries. She returned to Cuba on September 7, 2016 only to find her home occupied by strangers and her attacker free and bragging that he would finish the job. She moved in with her mother and within a short time a camera and microphone were set up across from her mother's home on a post.

Threats against Sirley's life intensified leading her to flee Cuba to the United States and request political asylum on October 28, 2016. Below is a video in Spanish explaining the circumstances that led her to leave Cuba.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Cuba should be removed from UN Human Rights Council until Castro frees Eduardo Cardet

"So long as the Castro government jails Eduardo Cardet, a prisoner of conscience, we call for the complete removal of Cuba from this Council." -  Hillel Neuer of UN Watch, addressing the UN Human Rights Council, March 20, 2017

Sentenced today to three years in prison
Eduardo Cardet Concepción, prisoner of conscience and Christian Liberation Movement national coordinator, was sentenced to three years in prison today. Meanwhile at the United Nations Human Rights Council his plight was referenced in an oral statement by Hillel Neuer of the nongovernmental organization UN Watch. Speaking out for the Cuban dissident drew an angry protest from the Castro regime's diplomats that interrupted the courageous speaker.

MCL leader Eduardo Cardet condemned to three years in prison
From the Christian Liberation Movement website:

Today Eduardo Cardet was informed of the sentence to three years in prison that was dictated by the court that tried him on March 3, 2017 in Gibara, Holguin. Eduardo Cardet told his wife, the sentence is based on manipulated data, without taking into account the testimony of defense witnesses. Cardet's family will appeal the ruling

Listen to Yaimaris Vecino's testimony in Spanish.

Eduardo Cardet has been jailed since November 30, 2016 for speaking critically of Fidel Castro following his death. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience on January 31, 2017.

Yaimaris Vecino, Eduardo Cardet and their two sons

Dictatorships at UNHRC try to silence UN Watch's Hillel Neuer

UN Human Rights Council, debate under Agenda Item 8, Vienna Declaration of Human Rights
delivered by Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch

Today we ask: Is the world living up to the Vienna Declaration, which reaffirms basic human rights?
We ask the government of Turkish President Erdogan, if it cares about human rights, why did they just fire more than one hundred thousand teachers, university deans, judges, prosecutors, religious figures and public servants?

We ask Pakistan, when will they release Asia Bibi, the innocent, Christian mother of five, now on death row on the absurd charge of blasphemy?

We ask Saudi Arabia, when will you end gender apartheid? When will you stop oppressing all religious practice that is not Wahhabist Islam? When will you release Raif Badawi, serving 10 years in prison for the crime of advocating a free society?

We welcome the Secretary-General’s new pledge of UN reform. That is why today, pursuant to Article 8 of Resolution 60/251, we call for the complete removal of Saudi Arabia from this Council.

So long as 1.3 billion people are denied their basic freedoms, we call for the removal of China. So long as human rights are abused by Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burundi, Congo, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, and UAE, we call for their removal.

So long as the Maduro government imprisons democracy leaders like Mayor Antonio Ledezma of Caracas, and causes its millions of citizens to scavenge for food, we call for the removal of Venezuela.

So long as the Castro government jails Eduardo Cardet, a prisoner of conscience, we call for the complete removal of Cuba from this Council.

Mr. President, we have the right to cite the suspension provision of this council’s own charter. They can silence human rights defenders at home, but they cannot do so at the United Nations.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Cuba's 2003 Black Spring 14 years later

"They are in prison only for defending human rights, which in any country are recognized as fundamental..." - Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, March 16, 2007

Catholic nun lays flowers before photos of the prisoners of conscience of the Black Spring
 It began 14 years ago today, the massive roundup of dissidents by the Castro regime's secret police. Their crimes? Some had organized a petition drive, legally recognized within the existing constitution; others were independent journalists or human rights activists. Over a 100 were rounded up but 75 would be subjected to political show trials and sentenced to lengthy prison terms ranging up to 28 years in prison. Amnesty International recognized them all as prisoners of conscience. The Cuban dictatorship thought it had crushed the Cuban democratic opposition, but they were wrong.

In the midst of the crackdown emerged a new and formidable force: The Ladies in White. The mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of the 74 men imprisoned organized into this movement that began to march through the streets of Cuba following mass on Sundays, organizing literary teas, and strategizing how to nonviolently free their loved ones. One woman was condemned to prison in the 2003 Black Spring and she was sentenced to 20 years.

Despite the slanders, death threats, beatings, and broken bones by 2011 all of the 75 political prisoners, who became known as the "group of the 75" where out of prison. Most were sent into exile but 12 who held out to the end remain in the island and today continue the struggle and the others now outside, who still live, press on for a democratic transition in Cuba.

Looking back fourteen years ago there is a documentary The Black Spring La Primavera Negra filmed in Cuba before and after the crackdown that captures that moment in time. Filmed by Czech - Chilean journalist Carlos Gonzalez.

List of prisoners of the Black Cuban Spring
Name of the prisoner of conscience, age at the time of his arrest, and prison sentence (Source: Amnesty, 2003)

1. Nelson Alberto Aguiar Ramírez, age 57, 13 year prison sentence 
2. Osvaldo Alfonso Valdés , age 38, 18 year prison sentence.  
3. Pedro Pablo Alvarez Ramos, age 55, 25 year prison sentence 
4. Pedro Argüelles Morán, age 55, 20 year prison sentence 
5. Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, age 52, 26 year prison sentence
6. Mijail Barzaga Lugo, age 35, 15 year prison sentence

7. Oscar Elías Biscet González, age 41, 25 year prison sentence
8. Margarito Broche Espinosa, age 45, 25 year prison sentence
9. Marcelo Cano Rodríguez , age 38, 18 year prison sentence 
10. Juan Roberto de Miranda Hernández, age 57, 20 year prison sentence
11. Carmelo Agustín Díaz Fernández, age 65,16 year prison sentence
12. Eduardo Díaz Fleitas, age 51, 21 year prison sentence.
13. Antonio Ramón Díaz Sánchez, age 40, 20 year prison sentence
14. Alfredo Rodolfo Domínguez Batista, age 41, 14 year prison sentence
15. Oscar Manuel Espinosa Chepe, age 62, 20 year prison sentence.
16. Alfredo Felipe Fuentes, age 53 26 year prison sentence.
17. Efrén Fernández Fernández, age 54, 12 year prison sentence
18. Juan Adolfo Fernández Sainz, age 54, 15 year prison sentence
19. José Daniel Ferrer García, age 32,  25 year prison sentence. (prosecution requested the death penalty)
20. Luis Enrique Ferrer García, age 27, 28 prison sentence
21. Orlando Fundora Alvarez, age 47, 18 year prison sentence

22. Próspero Gaínza Agüero (age not given), 25 year prison sentence
23. Miguel Galván Gutierrez, age 38, 26 year prison sentence
24. Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, age 58, 15 year prison sentence
25. Edel José García Díaz, age 57, 15 year prison sentence.
26. José Luis García Paneque, age 38, 24 year prison sentence
27. Ricardo Severino Gonzales Alfonso, age 53, 20 year prison sentence

28. Diosdado González Marrero age 40,  20 year prison sentence
29. Léster González Pentón, age 26, 20 year prison sentence
30. Alejandro González Raga age 45, 14 year prison sentence
31. Jorge Luis González Tanquero, age 32, 20 year prison sentence
32. Leonel Grave de Peralta Almenares age 27, 20 year prison sentence
33. Iván Hernández Carrillo age 32, 25 year prison sentence
34. Normando Hernández González, age 32,
25 year prison sentence
35. Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, age 36, 20 year prison sentence
36. Regis Iglesias Ramírez, age 33, 18 year prison sentence
37. José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández, age 37,  16 year prison sentence
38. Reinaldo Miguel Labrada Peña, age 40, six year prison sentence
39. Librado Ricardo Linares García, age 42,
20 year prison sentence 
40. Marcelo Manuel López Bañobre, age 39, 15 year prison sentence
41. Héctor Fernando Maseda Gutierrez, age 60, 20 years prison sentence

42. José Miguel Martínez Hernández, age 39, 13 years prison sentence
43. Mario Enrique Mayo Hernández, age 38, 20 year prison sentence 

44. Luis Milán Fernández, age 33, 13 year prison sentence
45. Nelson Moliné Espino, age 38, 20 year prison sentence
46. Angel Juan Moya Acosta, age 38, 20 year prison sentence

47. Jesús Miguel Mustafa Felipe, age 58, 25 year prison sentence
48. Félix Navarro Rodríguez, age 49, 25 year prison sentence
49. Jorge Olivera Castillo, age 41, 18 year prison sentence
50. Pablo Pacheco Avila, age 31, 20 year prison sentence
51. Héctor Palacios Ruiz, age 61, 25 year prison sentence

52. Arturo Pérez de Alejo Rodríguez, age 52, 20 year prison sentence.
53. Omar Pernet Hernández, age 57, 25 year prison sentence

54. Horacio Julio Piña Borrego, age 36, 20 year prison sentence  

55. Fabio Prieto Llorente, age 40, 20 year prison sentence
56. Alfredo Manuel Pulido López, age 42, 14 year prison sentence
57. José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, [not available] 20 year prison sentence
58. Arnaldo Ramos Lauzerique, age 60, 18 year prison sentence
59. Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodríguez, age 46, 25 year prison sentence.
60. Raúl Rivero Castañeda, age 57, 20 year prison sentence
61. Alexis Rodríguez Fernández, age 33, 15 year prison sentence
62. Omar Rodríguez Saludes, age 37, 27 year prison sentence
63. Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, age 57,
20 year prison sentence

64. Omar Moisés Ruiz Hernández, age 56, 18 year prison sentence
65. Claro Sánchez Altarriba, age 49, 15 year prison sentence
Ariel Sigler Amaya, age 39, 20 year prison sentence
67. Guido Sigler Amaya, age 46, 20 year prison sentence
68. Ricardo Silva Gual, age 30, 10 year prison sentence
69. Fidel Suárez Cruz, age 33, 20 year prison sentence.
70. Manuel Ubals González, age 34, 20 year prison sentence
71. Julio Antonio Valdés Guevara, age 52, 20 year prison sentence
72. Miguel Valdés Tamayo, age 46, 15 year prison sentence
73. Héctor Raúl Valle Hernández, age 35, 12 year prison sentence
74. Manuel Vázquez Portal, age 51, 18 year prison sentence
75. Antonio Augusto Villareal Acosta, age 52, 15 year prison sentence

Amnesty International in their 2003 report "Essential Measures" also expressed concern over the following additional arrests:

A number of additional dissidents were reportedly arrested during or around the time of the crackdown. The organisation is currently gathering information on their activities, the circumstances of their arrest and their current legal status, in order to determine if they too should be considered prisoners of conscience. They include Rafael Ernesto Avila Pérez, Javier García Pérez, Félix Jaime González Martínez, Rolando Jimenes Posada, Rafael Millet Leyva, Miguel Sigler Amaya, Pablo Solis Cubilla and Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Fourteen years later and the founder of the Ladies in White died under suspicious circumstances in 2011 and  Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, who many asked at the time why he was not jailed in 2003, was killed in what appears to have been a state security engineered "accident." In two days the individual who was elected to head the Christian Liberation Movement, Eduardo Cardet, who has been jailed since November 30, 2016 is expected to have his three year prison sentence confirmed by the Castro regime.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Totalitarianism in Cuba 2017 revealed: Documentary exposes how Castro regime targets dissidents' families

Why the Cuban government in 2017 is still a totalitarian dictatorship.

First showing of POLITICAL PRISONERS IN CUBA Avatars of the Family
This morning Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina founding member of the Eastern Democratic Alliance and founder of the audio visual project Palenque Visión unveiled the documentary POLITICAL PRISONERS IN CUBA Avatars of the Family PRISIONEROS POLITICOS EN CUBA Avatares de la Familia at the Bacardi House at the University of Miami co-hosted by the Center for a Free Cuba and the Institute for Cuban Cuban American Studies.  There was a brief introduction, followed by a showing of the 29 minute 16 second documentary and a discussion after the documentary between Rolando and the audience.

The importance of this documentary is that it reveals the Castro regime's apparatus of repression targeting friends, family and neighbors of dissidents with the aim of isolating all that dissent from the official line with escalating consequences that can end in prison or death. These consequences are not restricted to the individual dissident but target his or her entire social network. This documentary is an important work that exposes the existing totalitarian nature of the Castro regime in 2017.

Rolando has been detained by Cuban State Security over a 100 times over the past 31 years as an opposition activist and also spent a total of six years and two months in prison on three separate occasions. At the same time the documentary filmmaker explained how state security had opened a case file against his nine year old son and was already targeting him at school. Harassment and exclusion are a starting point in a sinister strategy that seeks to destroy socially, and some times physically, those who disagree with you.

The full documentary is now available online to all. Hopefully an English subtitled version will be available to reach a greater audience.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The legacy of the March 13, 1957 assault on Batista's presidential palace

"If you fight with violence, you are fighting with your enemy’s best weapon and you may be a brave but dead hero."- Gene Sharp

Student leader José Antonio Echeverría (center)
  Sixty years ago today in the afternoon, a group of young men took up arms and charged into the presidential palace in Havana to assassinate the Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, and were all gunned down. Nearby at the same time in Radio Reloj not knowing that the assault had failed student leader José Antonio Echeverría declared the dictator dead only to be himself killed in a skirmish after leaving the radio station. It was described as the day that Cuba lost its future.

Six decades later both sides in the ongoing struggle declare José Antonio Echeverría as one of their own. However, his democratic credentials and history as an elected student leader and practicing catholic would place him at odds with the Castro dictatorship.

Jose Antonio's sister Lucy Echeverría  on August 27, 2014 spoke at a panel discussion, "The Urban Insurrection Against Batista: The Life and Times of Jose Antonio Echeverria" at Florida International University about her brother's leadership at the University of Havana: "My brother held the presidency of the Federation of University Students (FEU) four times elected by overwhelmingly majorities. There the troubles began with Castro. As he never became president, he always kept that inside." 

Not mentioned in the Castro regime's official press is how the Echeverria family rejected the Castro regime's totalitarian turn to dictatorship and ended up in exile by 1961. According to Lucy, objects found in the Birthplace Museum of  José Antonio Echeverría in Cárdenas do not belong to her brother. She also explained how a televised tribute by the dictatorship in Cuba, had imposters play the supposed parents of the martyred leader, while the real ones were already exiled in the United States.

Nevertheless, the legacy of the "13 de Marzo" action to overthrow Fulgencio Batista by violent means ended with the deaths of many good and brave Cuban democrats, José Antonio among them, opening the way for Fidel Castro and in hindsight can be seen to have been a disastrous idea.

Michael Nagler, a long time peace scholar, presents the theorem as follows: Nonviolence sometimes “works” and always works, while by contrast, Violence sometimes “works” and never works.  Nagler offers a more detailed explanation.

The exercise of violence always has a destructive effect on human relationships even when, as sometimes happens, it accomplishes some short-term goal. The exercise of nonviolence, or Satyagraha, always brings people closer. This explains why Gandhi, after fifty years of experimentation in every walk of life, could declare that he “knew of no single case in which it had failed.” Where it seemed to fail he concluded that he or the other satyagrahis had in some way failed to live up to its steep challenge.  Taking the long view, he was able to declare that “There is no such thing as defeat in non-violence. The end of violence is surest defeat.”
Unfortunately, the "13 de Marzo" also has another and related significance in Cuban history. Twenty three years ago this upcoming July 13, 1994 a tugboat named the  "13 de Marzo", in honor of that violent anniversary, carrying Cuban families seeking to flee the Castro dictatorship, that replaced Fulgencio Batista in 1959, was attacked by agents of the current dictatorship and 37 were killed among them 10 children.

Victims of the "13 de Marzo" Tugboat Massacre