Human Rights in Cuba

Time To Change

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Daily Archives: March 18, 2013

Seeing Berta Soler off at the airport / Agustin Lopez
Posted on March 12, 2013

Between hugs, handshakes and some tears we said goodbye at the Havana
aiport last night, Sunday, 10 March, to the leader of the Ladies in
White, Berta Soler.

She was accompanied more than fifty of these brave women and about
thirty friends and admirers (including the political police brigade that
never misses these events) but not along the the usual route of the
Ladies in White through the streets of Cuba to demand freedom for
political prisoners. Rather she is taking advantage of a part of Law No.
13, embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, violated for
53 years by the authorities of the Cuban government led by Fidel Castro
Ruz, before, and now by his brother Raul Castro the leader of the
Communist party, the only party allowed to exist under the constitution
created by them and approved by fear. A violation that had motivated
thousands of Cubans to make an out-of-control exodus in which many lost
their lives trying to escape the dictatorship. For 53 years Cubans could
only leave the island to work in international missions (serving as
doctors and other positions), in sports delegations, or on cultural
tours, all well-controlled by government authorities, but still many
members risked desertion under the strict eyes of State Security. Thus
numerous talents in all branches of learning and doing fled the island.

A few minutes before leaving this reporter asked Berta Soler two questions:

What will make you return to Cuba?

Berta: My commitment to my people, to political prisoners who remain in
prison, to freedom. To demand the rights that are still violated by the
dictatorship. I go out into the world only to bear witness to the truth
of Cuba and to fight for our rights. We are not mercenaries as we are
painted by the dictatorship but patriots, people of any social class who
lose the fear of repression and hold to citizenship in search of democracy.

Are you afraid to return home?

Berta: No, not at all. Fear of the tyrant has plunged this country into
misery, has made this people mediocre and isolated from the rest of the
world, not knowing how to relate to their own brothers. Even the
government itself has confessed that it has failed to create a
generation within the Party capable of replacing the old and worn out
satraps who govern. God willing, I will return to new streets, that do
not belong to the Party, to a government or to a dynasty, but to all
Cubans, those here and our brothers who have been banished into exile,
because for me we have all been banished, expelled from out country, the
land that by right belongs to us.

Now on the point of crossing over the high wall of the Revolution, her
husband, Angel Moya Acosto, a political prisoner from the Black Spring
Group of 75, hugs her and says, "Do the right thing, not one step back.
Our best weapon is the truth. Give the world this message. We are here,
waiting for you."
Laughter, applause, excitement, and the cameras clicking, until the
Afro-Cubana leader is lost behind the curtains of customs.

11 March 2013 Continue reading
Yoani Sanchez: dissident Cuban blogger hopeful of digital change

Sanchez makes first public appearance in US and calls on international
community to pressure Castro to open up system
Gizelle Lugo in New York, Saturday 16 March 2013 19.50 GMT

"The truth is, all journalists in Cuba are imprisoned," said Yoani
Sanchez, in a downbeat assessment of the plight of free speech in her
home country.

The 37-year old Cuban dissident and celebrated blogger behind Generation
Y, knows as well as anyone the impact of restrictions placed on
chroniclers of daily life in communist Cuba. Despite being named one of
the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine, Sanchez
has, for the past few years, been confined to island life. Until now.

Sanchez, whose attempts to travel abroad have been rejected more than 20
times in the past five years, is currently on an 80-day tour across
Europe, Latin America and the United States to speak to those who have
been following her story. The trip was only made possible by recent
reforms implemented by President Raul Castro, which eased travel
restrictions for many Cubans.

Sanchez's trip has not been without incident, however. In Brazil, she
was met by pro-Castro demonstrators during a visit to the Brazilian
congress. Similar demonstrations, rumored to be staged, also followed
during a recent trip to Mexico.

Little wonder, then, that when Sanchez made her first public appearance
in the United States, at Columbia University on Thursday evening,
stringent security measures were taken. However, Sanchez received a warm
welcome, flowers and a standing ovation as she sat down for a brief Q&A.

Throughout the evening, Sanchez, with her long hair and earth-mother
style dress, could be caught tweeting on her iPhone to her 450,000

One might think Sanchez is always on the internet. But the reality is
that she and her fellow Cubans face a battle to gain access to the
unfiltered web, like sneaking into a hotel – which, before the reforms,
Cubans were prohibited from entering – and spending half a month's wages
to use a computer. Cubans have also created their own digital version of
alchemy in creating "internet without internet" by downloading
uncensored information to flash drives and sharing it with one another.

Life in Cuba is difficult for dissidents like Sanchez, who have been met
with verbal attacks to physical detention, although Sanchez notes the
worst imprisonment is that of forced silence. "[We are] imprisoned by
censorship, imprisoned by laws, imprisoned on an island that is a prison
surrounded by water on all sides."

But in recent times, the Cuban government, which, Sanchez explained, has
taken note of the events during the Arab spring, has been cautious about
how they deal with the regime's detractors. The Cuban government has
started to engage with bloggers, creating pro-government blogs to
denounce those like Sanchez as agents of outside enemies like the United
States. But Sanchez believes this reveals that the government can no
longer refuse to acknowledge the power and effect the Cuban blogosphere
is having on the people.

And Sanchez only plans to go further in pushing the government's
buttons. "[I]t is time to move beyond the realm of the personal and
individual expression of the blog – the catharsis that is the 140
characters on Twitter – into a more civic exercise that would be
expressed through an independent press in Cuba," she said.

Sanchez will take up the project when she returns to Cuba, and she's
unafraid of being charged with "crimes of enemy propaganda". While the
venture will, for now, remain in the elusive digital sphere, at least,
she says, it will be ready for all Cubans when the change comes.

What were Sanchez's first impressions of the US? "Breathing in [New York
City], a city so enormous that I've only ever seen in films … I am
absolutely in shock'."

After her stop in New York, Sanchez will visit Washington DC and attend
a meeting on Capitol Hill organized by senator Bill Nelson of Florida.

"I see it as an opportunity to narrate Cuba as someone who lives on the
island, [to] answer their questions and provide them with my
perspective. It's an important moment for Cuba right now, a moment so in
flux, where everything can either fall to ruin or be achieved."

Sanchez, a Havana native, wants to highlight the progress and change
that has been taking place in Cuba. But according to Sanchez, the "Raul
reforms" were not enacted from "a position of power"; they were put in
place because the Castros "are backed against the wall" by civil society
in Cuba and abroad. And after Hugo Chavez's death, which could signal
the end of Cuba's supply of cheap oil, Sanchez expects even more reform.

As for relations with the US, Sanchez tells the Guardian that she
retains hope in President Obama. During his first term in office, the
president eased travel restrictions on Americans visiting Cuba, along
with those on remittances to the country. Those have proved invaluable
to Cubans, who earn, on average, just $19 a month.

"I believe we are in times of change," she said. "We need the United
States to acknowledge these changes occurring in Cuba – changes that
transcend politics and are expanding across the digital world. I would
like to be able to say that this new Cuba can count on [President Obama]."

Sanchez acknowledged that the US policy towards Cuba is not entirely
shaped by Obama She is also interested in the views of Florida senator
Marco Rubio, a Cuban American.

Rubio is opposed to lifting the trade embargo, or providing any of the
kind of aid provided by the unrestricted travel and money transfers to
the island. He recently blasted colleagues and Americans who visit Cuba,
saying that travelers are leaving "thousands of dollars in the hands of
a government that uses that money to control these people that you feel
sorry for".

Sanchez said: "I respect the different opinions on the embargo. Why?
Because they are born out concern for Cuba. There are people who believe
the embargo will help Cuba become more democratized. There are also
those of us who believe Cuba will become more democratized without it.
But all of us agree that we want democracy in Cuba."

Though Sanchez wants to see an end to the embargo, she warns that the US
needs to be "cautious" that lifting the embargo does not "end up
breathing life into a regime that is on its last legs".

And what of the future?

"The promises shouldn't be made by a leader, a party or an ideology. The
promise should come from all Cubans, and it's a promise with our
children that they will have an inclusive Cuba, a bountiful Cuba, a Cuba
where no one will be punished for expressing themselves," Sanchez said.

"I would promise the new generation a Cuba for all Cubans." Continue reading
Cuba's Future Transition to Democracy Can Be a Success
Posted: 03/12/2013 9:57 am

It is too early to say how Hugo Chavez's passing will effect
developments elsewhere in the region. One wonders first and foremost
about the consequences on and in Cuba. It is a reminder to the Castro
brothers that power is ephemeral.

Cuba is ready for change. In spite of the efforts by the regime to paint
a rosy picture, eye witnesses tell a sad story. Living conditions are
bad, the economy survives only at the mercy of Venezuela. The
Inter-American Human Rights Commission, in its 2012 a report on Cuba,
speaks of "permanent and systematical violations of the fundamental
rights of Cuban citizens." Ironically, however while the Cuban people
suffer, the regime is internationally stronger than ever.

Progressive rock musicians, like Gorki in the band Porno Para Ricardo,
are prevented from writing and performing freely. The international
pressure for the respect for human rights is weak and inefficient. It
seems like the ethic conscience of the west is comfortable with the
situation. It shouldn't be. Solidarity with the people submitted to
human rights violations by dictatorships is a moral imperative. However,
the opposition movement is gaining voice, even in face of a forgetful
international community. They are increasingly self-confident. Oswaldo
Paya is now dead, but others, like Yoani Sanchez stepped into his place.
Courageous people, who defy threats and speak more and more openly about
the true state of the country. They deserve all the support they ask
for. Cuba is ripe for change.

To understand today's Cuba, one must better study the history of
communist Eastern Europe, rather than that of Latin America. The
resemblance is striking. The inner workings of the regime are similar to
the more conservative countries of the former communist bloc in 1989.

Halfhearted, thus unsuccessful economic reforms, the total control of
the media, isolating the population from the world, harassment of the
political opposition and the communist elite clinging to power. At the
same time a disenchanted population, including a big part of the party
membership, the majority of which does not any longer believe in the
ideology or the future of the system. It is more like East Germany or
Romania, rather than Hungary or Poland of the day. However, the leaders
of Cuba surely understand, that the desire for change swept away even
the harshest regimes of Eastern Europe.

Cuban society is fractured, with the supporters of the regime and those
who reject it altogether representing approximately 25-30 percent each.
It is however the remaining silent 40-50 percent that can make
transition a success or a disaster. The regime is playing on their fears
of the unknown. Having them on the side of change is decisive.

Europe's and more importantly, America's stance is key. Europe needs to
be a lot more outspoken on human rights. The U.S. must have a policy
that takes note of the diverse interests of all stakeholders of
democratic change. First and foremost the majority of Cubans living in
the Island State and help genuinely democratic minded leaders in their
midst, like it did in Eastern Europe, in an open and transparent manner.
It must cater for the interests of its vast, talented, successful and
influential Cuban-American community. The two interests are not similar,
but mostly overlapping. They can and should be aligned in a generous,
smart and forward looking policy. Cuban-Americans must play their cards
smartly. They will be an important, even decisive, but perhaps not
dominant part of transition and future democratic Cuba. They must be
magnanimous. Their most important task will be to accelerate a
transition to knowledge and internet based economy. They must win the
confidence of the majority on the Island. They must also understand that
Castro's successors will single them out as being responsible, when the
inevitable difficulties of the transition arise.

There is a treasure trove of experiences out there to be considered. We
now know how difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy was, in
Spain, in Eastern Europe or South Africa. There are valuable lessons
learned, Cuba need not repeat the mistakes of others. It is easy to
erect institutions of democracy, create a free press, a free and
independent judiciary. It is far more difficult to guard these
institutions. Beware of populism, smart and attractive, but equally
dangerous leaders. It is now also understood, that success of change
hinges on economic success. The wider population will embrace democracy
only if it associates more freedom with a better life. For a country
without natural resources the only source they can exploit, it the
smartness of its people. Only full-fledged democracy can ensure the
frameworks for that. Only strong institutions can mitigate the ugliness
of a privatization. Dreams must be constructive, not destructive.

Revenge can be a political tool in the hands of a few, instant
gratification to the angry masses. It is morally justified for the lost
years, for lost property, for the rejection by the motherland, for the
divided families. However, the happiness gained through revenge will be
short lived. Sowing the debilitating fear of change, must be countered
by wise and magnanimous politics.

We are looking forward to seeing an uncensored Gorki performing in the
Rotilla festival on stage to celebrate freedom. We will be there, with
our guitars.

Follow András Simonyi on Twitter: Continue reading
Cuba Closing Evangelical Church Amid Wider Crackdown
March 17th, 2013 by George Whitten

HAVANA, CUBA (Worthy News)– Hundreds of Christians in Cuba were without
a place of worship after security forces closed down the Full Gospel
Church as part of a government attempt to "destroy" evangelical
congregations on the Communist-run island, rights activists said.

The late February crackdown on the 200-member congregation in Havana
Province was the latest setback for its pastor, Jesus Hernandez, who was
reportedly attacked a week earlier by an armed mob while sleeping at home.

State security agents were seen shutting down and sealing the doors of
the Full Gospel Church, located in the province's Lotería neighborhood
in Cotorro municipality. They also confiscated the church's belongings,
including chairs and musical instruments, said advocacy group Christian
Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

The Cuban Communist Party Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), which
oversees all religious activity, has denied wrongdoing.

ORA's chief Caridad Diego reportedly said that the church building and
everything inside were confiscated because of "a dispute over ownership
of the church [building]."


Church members counter that the church has existed in its present
location for more than 15 years, led by the same pastor, without problems.

CSW told Worthy News that the "forced closure and confiscation of church
property" followed "a disturbing mob attack" on the home of Pastor
Hernandez at 2am while he was asleep inside.

It cited witnesses as saying that the mob carried "sticks, baseball bats
and also threatened his teenage son."

Following the violence and "church confiscation" Hernandez and other
church leaders failed to "resolve the problem" in meetings with Caridad
Diego and other ORA officials, Christians said.

Church leaders said the Full Gospel Church was targeted because of its
"consistent and rapid growth" and because of the pastor's friendship
with leaders of the Apostolic Movement, a rapidly expanding network of
Charismatic churches.


The government has refused to allow to register the Movement, and
Christians claim authorities "openly and aggressively" try "to destroy"
it in recent years.

While Full Gospel Church is not affiliated with the Apostolic Movement,
Pastor Hernandez maintains "a good relationship with its leadership,"
CSW said.

CSW's Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston told Worthy News that his group
remains "deeply concerned by the attack on Pastor Hernandez' home and
the threats against his son."

He said, "The closure of the Full Gospel Church and the confiscation of
church property is just one more example of the regular abuse of power
committed by Caridad Diego and the ORA."

Cuba says it will respect religious freedom as part of wider reforms,
but rights activists and local Christians complaint that the rhetoric is
not turned into action towards churches.


Johnston said the Cuban government should "remove authority for all
religious activity from ORA and deal with these matters through regular
legal channels, which offer recourse for appeal."

He and others urged Cuba's leadership to return the building and
properties to members of the Full Gospel Church, but there were no signs
Thursday March 14, that authorities were willing to back down.

The controversy emerges while the man named as Cuban President Raul
Castro's chief lieutenant and expected successor must quietly fend off
any challenges from within the Communist-run island's secretive citadel
of power.

Miguel Diaz-Canel has five years to get started, after Castro said last
month he would step down at the end of his new term.

Yet, local Christians, rights activists and exiles wonder whether
changing the nameplate outside the presidential office will change a
system they regard as repressive and autocratic. Continue reading
Posted on Monday, 03.18.13

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez recalls Black Spring detentions

NEW YORK -- Renowned Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez ended her three-day
participation in a technology and information seminar in New York
remembering the impact of the Black Spring, a wave of massive detentions
that took place in Cuba a decade ago.

"I want to honor and remember those independent journalists, activists
and peaceful opponents. They opened a road that we now continue to
tread," Sánchez said on Sunday. "They presented an opposition to which
we feel we are heirs despite all the censorship and repression."

The remarks came on the third and final day of a forum organized by New
York University and The New School about technology and the Internet.
Sanchez now heads to Washington, D.C., where she will meet with members
of Congress on Tuesday. She will visit Miami on April 1, where she will
take part in a gathering sponsored by Miami Dade College with students
and community leaders.

On Sunday, Sánchez, 37, said that during the Black Spring, the political
climate in Cuba was not only highly sensitive but also complex. The
dissident movement had little means to share information with the world.

"Those were times when social networks or Internet did not exist [in
Cuba], there were no memory flashes, and it was impossible to have a
computer," Sánchez said.

The 2003 summary trials and prison sentences of jailed opponents marked
a new chapter in the human rights demands by the international community
and the internal dissidence. The incident encouraged mothers and wives
of political prisoners to organize a common front known as the Ladies in
White. The group demanded the release of the prisoners.

Sánchez said that the campaigns and demands of the civil society have
now an additional tool in technology, cellphones and services such as
Twitter, among others.

"Many independent journalists and peaceful activists who began their
work precariously have now resorted to blogs, for example, as a format
to circulate information about programs and initiatives to collect
signatures," Sánchez said. She mentioned the so-called Citizens' Demand
and the petitions submitted to the international community for the
release of Calixto Martínez, a contributor to the nongovernment news
agency Hablemos [Let's Talk] Press, based in Havana.

The Citizens' Demand calls for Castro to ratify the United Nations
political and civil rights agreements signed in 2008. The dissidents
formally handed the demand to the National Assembly of Popular Power
(ANPP in its Spanish acronym). The document demands a legal and
political framework for a full debate of ideas and solutions to the
internal crisis.

"It has been my fate to live in Cuba and that is why I have a commitment
to the reality in which I live," Sánchez said. "Yet it is not a defense
circumscribed to one geographic location, because it is a condition of
citizen responsibility. It is important to have initiatives for
transforming the law and demand concrete public spaces within the country."

In recent months, pressure from the peaceful dissidence to denounce
abuse and lack of guarantees has remained firm despite the
zero-tolerance policy of Cuban authorities.

In the closing day of the seminar, Sánchez and other panelists, like
writer and blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, made reference to the Cuban
government's strategy to impose and maintain a culture of fear over the
civil society.

"The Cuban State Security has specialized in creating intrigues and
false confrontations," Sánchez said. "And the worse part is that when we
leave Cuba we often carry that fear with us in our suitcase. I have
found Cubans here who speak to me in a whisper." Continue reading
Document - Cuba: Further information: Prisoner of conscience on hunger
strike: Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias

Further information on UA: 25/13 Index: AMR 25/002/2013 Cuba Date: 14
March 2013



image1.png Independent journalist and prisoner of conscience Calixto
Ramón Martínez Arias is on hunger strike to protest against his
detention in Cuba. As a result, he has been placed in solitary
confinement in a punishment cell.

On 6 March, journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias went on hunger
strike to protest against his detention in Combinado del Este prison on
the outskirts of Havana, Cuba. He was consequently transferred by the
prison authorities to a punishment cell. According to his relatives, the
small cell where he is now held has no light, toilet facilities or
bedding, and he is not permitted to leave the cell to exercise in the
open air. These kinds of punitive measures are typically used by the
Cuban authorities against prisoners on hunger strike.

image2.jpgCalixto Ramón Martínez Arias works for the unofficial news
agency, Let's Talk Press (Hablemos Press). He was arrested in Havana on
16 September 2012 by the Cuban Revolutionary Police (Policía
Revolucionaria de Cuba) at José Martí International Airport in Havana.
He had been investigating allegations that medicine provided by the
World Health Organization to fight the cholera outbreak (which began in
mid-2012) was being kept at the airport instead of being distributed.
Since then, he has been detained in various detention centres. He has
been held at Combinado del Este prison since November 2012.

Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias is yet to be formally charged by the public
prosecutor, and according to his relatives he is reportedly being
accused of "disrespect" ("desacato"). Amnesty International believes
Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias' detention is politically motivated and
related to his peaceful exercise of freedom of expression.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

Calling on the Cuban authorities to release Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias
immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience,
detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of

Urging them to remove him from solitary confinement, and ensure he is
granted any medical attention he may require;

Urging them to refrain from taking punitive measures against prisoners
for undertaking hunger strikes.


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

Interior Minister

General Abelardo Coloma Ibarra

Ministro del Interior y Prisiones

Ministerio del Interior, �Plaza de la Revolución, �La Habana, Cuba

Fax: +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)


Salutation: Your Excellency

And solidarity letters to:

Centro de Información Hablemos Press

Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez –


calle Santa Marta 394, Apto 3 alto, entre Franco y Subirana, municipio
Centro Habana, La Habana, Cuba


Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above
date. This is the first update of UA 25/13. Further information:


prisoner of conscience on hunger strike
ADditional Information

Restrictions on the Cuban media are stringent and pervasive and clearly
stop those in the country from enjoying their right to freedom of
opinion and expression, including freedom to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. The
state maintains a total monopoly on television, radio, the press,
internet service providers, and other electronic means of communication.

Article 53 of the Cuban Constitution recognizes freedom of the press but
expressly prohibits private ownership of the mass media: "Citizens have
freedom of speech and of the press in keeping with the objectives of
socialist society. Material conditions for the exercise of that right
are provided by the fact that the press, radio, television, cinema, and
other mass media are state or social property and can never be private
property. This assures their use at exclusive service of the working
people and in the interests of society. The law regulates the exercise
of those freedoms." Although there is no censorship law that explicitly
regulates the functioning of the press or establishes what is published,
journalists must join the Cuban Journalists Association (Unión de
Periodistas Cubanos, UPEC) in order to practice journalism in the
state-owned media. UPEC is self-governing; however, in its statutes it
recognizes the Cuban Communist Party as "the highest leading force of
society and of the state" and agrees to abide by Article 53 of the
Constitution (see above).

Compulsory membership of a professional association for the practice of
journalism is an unlawful restriction on freedom of expression and a
violation of the right to freedom of association. Article 20 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that, "no one may be
compelled to belong to an association". In the particular case of UPEC,
whose members are employees of the government of Cuba, compulsory
membership is a means of exerting political control in the field of
communications. Only journalists expressing views in line with official
government policies are accredited by UPEC; independent journalists are
barred from joining.

The news agency Hablemos Press is an unofficial Cuban news agency
founded in February 2009 by independent journalists and human rights
activists, "for the purpose of gathering and disseminating news within
the country and for the rest of the world" according to their website.
Hablemos Press journalists are regular victims of short-term arrests and
harassment related to their work. Prior to his September arrest, Calixto
Ramón Martínez Arias had been detained without charge on a number of
occasions in 2012. On 11 September 2012 the director of Hablemos Press –
Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez – was forced into a car and reportedly
beaten as he was driven to a police station. Before being released, he
was told that he had become the "number one dissident journalist" and
would face imprisonment if he continued his activities.

Amnesty International believes no prisoner should be confined long term
in conditions of isolation and reduced sensory stimulation, and that
conditions of detention should conform to the UN Standard Minimum Rules
for the Treatment of Prisoners and other international human rights
standards. Amnesty International believes that if solitary confinement
is used, strict limits should be imposed on the practice, including
regular and adequate medical supervision by a doctor.

Hunger strikes are often used in Cuba by political dissidents and other
activists as a way of protest, and demonstrate the situation of despair
and hopelessness that they face when victims of unfair and prolonged
incarcerations. For further information, see: Cuba must release prisoner
of conscience on hunger strike
In September 2012 Jorge Vázquez Chaviano carried out a hunger strike
after the Cuban authorities failed to release him following the end of
his 18-month prison sentence. In recent years hunger strikes have led to
the death of two prisoners: Orlando Zapata Tamayo (see: Death of Cuban
prisoner of conscience on hunger strike must herald change,
in February 2010, and Wilmar Villar Mendoza (see: Cuban authorities
'responsible' for activist's death on hunger strike,
in January 2012 – both prisoners of conscience.

Name: Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias

Gender m/f: m

Further information on UA: 25/13 Index: AMR 25/002/2013 Issue Date: 14
March 2013

Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias © Hablemos Press Continue reading
18 March 2013

Cuban activists talk about lack of basic freedoms, 10 years on from mass

"The catalogue of repression and harassment suffered by José Daniel
Ferrer García since his release illustrates the current strategy by the
Cuban authorities under which activists are arrested for short periods
of time to discourage them from speaking up about the state of human
rights in the country."
Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

Cuban activist José Daniel Ferrer García can hardly remember a time when
the authorities were not monitoring and blocking his movements and phone

Coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba,
UNPACU), an unrecognized organization that seeks democratic change by
non-violent means, José Daniel has been arrested on numerous occasions
as punishment for his activism.

From his early days as an activist in the 1990s he was used to being
arbitrarily detained on a regular basis for short periods and was
constantly threatened with prison.

So when he was told by two state security officials on 15 March 2003
that he only had a few days to stop his dissident activities or he would
face a long time in prison, his reaction was to laugh.

"They had threatened me so many times, with so many years of prison that
I no longer took them seriously," he said.

Three days later, however, on 18 March 2003, in what was later dubbed
the "black spring" by those affected, José Daniel was arrested as part
of a group of 75 political dissidents in an unprecedented crackdown on
the dissident movement on the island.

They were all detained on spurious charges related to state security and
following summary trials were sentenced to long prison terms of up to 28

José Daniel was sentenced to 25 years under charges of "acts against the
territorial independence or integrity of the state". During his trial,
the prosecution pushed for the death penalty, the maximum sentence for
that "crime". All he had been doing was help to organize a campaign
calling for a referendum on legal reform to seek greater personal,
political and economic freedoms in his country.

Amnesty International declared them all "prisoners of conscience" as
they had been sentenced solely for the peaceful exercise of fundamental

During his time in prison, José Daniel was moved to several prisons
across the country – which made visits from his wife and three children,

But in July 2010, following the intervention of the Cuban Catholic
Church, authorities in Cuba agreed to release all those of the 75 who
remained in prison, amongst them, José Daniel.

The political dissidents were set free under "licencia extrapenal" a
conditional release meaning that the charges against them were not being
dropped but that they were allowed to spend the remainder of their
sentences outside prison. Most activists, however, were forced into
exile in Spain.

José Daniel refused to leave Cuba and was finally released in March 2011.

Since his release, he has continued to suffer from harassment – mainly
in the form of short-term detentions aimed at preventing him from
carrying out his activism, including attending private meetings and
public events. His home has also been raided by state security forces
and his computer confiscated.

In August 2012, he was arrested for 36 hours in the province of Holguín,
before being released without charge. In April 2012, he was held for 27
days for "public disorder" in his home province of Santiago de Cuba and
only released on the condition that he renounce his political activism,
something he refused to do. Two months earlier, he had been arrested in
Havana and held incommunicado for three days.

"The catalogue of repression and harassment suffered by José Daniel
Ferrer García since his release illustrates the current strategy by the
Cuban authorities under which activists are arrested for short periods
of time to discourage them from speaking up about the state of human
rights in the country," said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights – an organization
denied legal status in Cuba - there were at least 504 arbitrary
detentions this February, while the unofficial news agency Hablemos
Press has reported that 40 independent journalists and bloggers have
been arbitrarily detained this year so far.

Travel ban
A new law came into force in January which has removed the need for
Cubans to have a permit to travel abroad, making it easier for Cubans to
leave the island and for Cubans living overseas to return.

Blogger Yoani Sánchez and the spokesperson of the NGO Ladies in White,
Berta Soler have both recently been allowed to travel abroad, something
which seemed impossible only a few months ago.

When he learned about the lift of Cuba's travel ban, however, José
Daniel knew that the historical change would not make much difference to
him. The fact that he is still serving his sentence means he cannot
apply for a passport until it ends in 2028.

Amnesty International says José Daniel and his fellow activists were
imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions and
their sentences should be voided immediately.

And for the activists imprisoned during the 2003 crackdown and forced
into exile, including journalist Pablo Pacheco, the ease in travel
restrictions will be unlikely to allow them and their families to return
to Cuba.

Pablo was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison under a law which
prohibits the passing of information to the United States that could be
used to bolster anti-Cuban measures, and was released in July 2010,
under the condition that he and his family would move to Spain.

"Prison conditions were terrible – solitary cells with no sunlight and a
toilet in the same cell. I lost 30 lbs and suffered long-term damage to
my knees. My family was only allowed to visit once every three months,"
he said to Amnesty International.

Pablo can still vividly remember the last day he spent in Cuba.

He was transferred directly from prison to the airport, where he met his
wife and son. He spent nearly two years in Spain and then moved to Miami
because the economic crisis in the European country left few job
opportunities for him and his wife.

Pablo told Amnesty International that he wants to return to Cuba as his
family and friends are there but that he will not be ready to return
until the country turns into a real democracy.

Trumped-up charges
Trumped-up charges on offences such as "disrespect", "public disorder",
"contempt" and "dangerousness" are still being used by the Cuban
authorities to prosecute government opponents.

Amnesty International has recently named two imprisoned activists as
"prisoners of conscience" – held solely because of the peaceful
expression of their opinions.

Journalist Calixto Martínez Arias, a founder member of Hablemos Press,
was arrested on 16 September 2012 near Havana airport by the Cuban
Revolutionary Police. He was investigating allegations that medicine
provided by the World Health Organization to fight a cholera outbreak
was being kept at the airport, as the Cuban government were allegedly
trying to down-play the seriousness of the outbreak.

When he complained at the police station about his detention, he was
beaten and pepper-sprayed, and then called out "down with Raúl", "down
with Fidel" and was subsequently charged by the police with showing
"disrespect" towards President Raúl Castro and Fidel Castro.

Calixto – who has yet to be formally charged by the public prosecutor –
began a hunger strike on 6 March 2013 in protest at his continued detention.

Marcos Máiquel Lima Cruz is currently serving a three-year sentence
having been detained on 25 December 2010 at his home in Holguín for
playing songs by a Cuban hip-hop group, whose lyrics criticize the lack
of freedom of expression in Cuba and dancing in front of his house
whilst holding the Cuban flag. He was sentenced for "insulting symbols
of the homeland" and "public disorder".

For José Daniel, the 10 years following the crackdown has seen no
improvement in the human rights situation in Cuba. The ease in travel
restrictions is "just a smoke screen. It will still be the Cuban
government who decides who can and can't leave. All the while other
fundamental freedoms are still being repressed and that repression is

"Civil society in Cuba has already lost its fear to speak out", said
Pablo Pacheco, "and the world needs to support their efforts". Continue reading
Zapata lives
Zapata lives
No place to live
No place to live