Cuban Dissidents Face Uphill Fight
Published October 31, 2015
The graffiti artist jailed for 10 months after he painted the names
“Fidel” and “Raúl” on two pigs said today he isn’t backing down.
“Art is my life and I can’t breathe without a life,” said Danilo
Maldonado, also known as “El Sexto.”
“Of course I’m going to continue doing what I do – rebellious art,” the
32-year-old artist told Along the Malecón.
El Sexto’s release from jail on Oct. 20 was a fleeting victory for
democracy activists, but they continue to face intense pressure from
Cuba’s security forces.
The number of physical attacks against dissidents and democracy
activists in September jumped to 93, from 21 in August, a 342 percent
increase, according to the independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights
and National Reconciliation in Havana.
Security police also carried out at least 882 arbitrary detentions in
September, the highest number since June 2014, the commission reported
on Oct. 5.
Many of the arrests were aimed at preventing democracy activists from
attending events with Pope Francis, who had called for a “revolution of
tenderness” while visiting Cuba in September.
“Before and during the visit of Pope Francis, Cuba’s government
unleashed a veritable wave of political and social repression, with a
toll of at least 353 preventive arrests of peaceful dissidents to
prevent them from participating in mass rallies with the pope,” the
Four activists who approached the pontiff while he was aboard the
popemobile in Havana were quickly detained. On Sept. 29, authorities
accused them of public disorder and other crimes.
The four activists remain in jail. Their relatives say they don’t
“They didn’t do anything bad,” the sister of one activist said in a
YouTube video. “They didn’t plant a bomb. They didn’t hurt the pope.”
On Thursday, democracy activists called for the activists’ release and
threw leaflets into the air outside the Attorney General’s office in Havana.
Cuban authorities on Friday were busy hunting down and arresting the
protesters, independent journalist Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca tweeted.
The human rights situation in Cuba has worsened in recent months, said
Antonio Rodiles, director of Estado de SATS, a project aimed at boosting
human rights and freedom of expression.
“Violence is increasing,” said Rodiles, 43, a former math professor who
lives in Havana.
On a Sunday morning this summer, he said, Cuban agents grabbed him off
the street, shoved him into a car and broke his nose.
It was one of 161 reported physical attacks that security forces carried
out against democracy activists from June through September, rights
Even before Secretary John Kerry visited the island in August, Rodiles
had warned the U.S. government not to renew diplomatic relations with
Cuba without demanding concessions, including greater respect for human
Now that the two nations have re-established ties, Rodiles said Cuban
authorities have a new sense of legitimacy.
“They feel more free to repress and to use violence against the
opposition movement,” he said.
Government supporters are unapologetic. They describe the dissidents as
“mercenaries” who have little support inside Cuba and receive funding
from the U.S. government and U.S.-financed organizations.
Cuban authorities cracked down on the so-called “mercenaries” in 2003,
arresting 75 democracy activists, journalists and others and slapping
them with prison terms of up to 28 years.
In 2010, authorities began releasing the activists. By 2011, all had
been freed or forced into exile in Spain as part of a deal brokered by
the Roman Catholic Church.
Cuban officials began using short-term detentions rather than long jail
sentences to try to rein in the political opposition.
Short-term arrests jumped from 2,074 in 2010 to 8,899 in 2014.
Such detentions so far this year have declined by 32 percent, the human
rights commission said.
The number of people arrested for political reasons from January through
September dropped to 5,146, from 7,599 during the same period last year.
But dissidents say police are using increasing force.
“Well, right now we are being very, very repressed,” said Arelys Blanco,
23, member of Ladies in White, founded in 2003 to seek the release of
the 75 imprisoned activists.
“They hit us when they are going to arrest us. They handcuff our hands
behind the back and they keep us that way for as many as six hours. That
Not enough people inside Cuba are aware of the plight of the opposition,
dissident leader José Daniel Ferrer said. He wants to change that. And
now that the U.S. and Cuba have renewed diplomatic ties, he sees an
“As a greater number of visitors and Cuban-Americans come to Cuba, we
must convince all that we can to help us inform Cubans about the
island,” Ferrer said.
“If those who come here bring some DVDs with the latest news from
YouTube about the struggle, things would move along more quickly.
Disinformation continues to be one of our main problems.
We must work to have as many allies and friends and supporters among the
Cuban officials accuse the U.S. government of financing opposition
groups to undermine the socialist government.
Over the past three decades, the U.S. government has spent more than $1
billion on programs to boost democracy, freedom of expression and the
free flow of information in Cuba, budget records and congressional
The State Department is managing $20 million in Cuba programs this year.
After President Obama announced that the U.S. and Cuba were
re-establishing diplomatic ties, American lawmakers raised the amount to
$30 million for fiscal 2016, which began Oct. 1, 2015.
Ferrer said he is grateful for the support he receives from the
Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba and other
“Without that support, I could not respond to your questions. I would
not have a laptop or a mobile phone with e-mail,” Ferrer told Along the
Malecón. “The Cuban opposition struggles under very adverse conditions
and like any organization that fights for democracy in countries with
totalitarian regimes, we need the solidarity and the material support of
organizations and governments in the free world.”
Ferrer is leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, one of the country’s
largest opposition groups. He received a 25-year prison sentence in 2003
and refused forced exile to Spain in 2011, choosing instead to stay in
Cuba and fight for democracy.
Asked about the future, Ferrer said there are three things opposition
groups must do:
Convert their ideas and proposals into action;
Turn Cubans from passive observers to active members of the opposition;
Unite dissident groups into a single force.
Unity has been a problem for Cuba’s political opposition. Ladies in
White, for instance, split into two after members got into a dispute
over leadership in 2014.
Berta Soler, who heads the largest of the two groups, blames the Cuban
government for the trouble.
“The Cuban government has tried to mislead or confuse the Cuban
populace, as well as the international community, creating a new
parallel group with the same name and wearing the same outfit that we
have in Ladies in White,” Soler said.
Some members “were blackmailed by the Cuban government and they have
created this new group very similar to us, to confuse.”
Laurita Labrada Pollán, whose mother co-founded the organization in
2003, leads the smaller group. She said she split off from the others
because Soler began allowing men to take part in Ladies in White activities.
Both groups have the same dream: Democracy.
“We have no freedom of speech,” Labrada Pollán said. “We have no freedom
of association. We have no freedom of movement and those are our main
goals, that in Cuba true democracy takes hold because in Cuba there is
Source: Cuban Dissidents Face Uphill Fight | Pulitzer Center –