The visit of the prelate was of a personal nature, and to inquire about his status. It took place in the hospital ward where the opposition activist has been confined for most of his hunger strike.
The Cuban government and the Catholic Church have maintained a dialog for little more than a month aimed at the release of all political prisoners, but it has produced just one release, and twelve transfers to penitentiaries closer to the prisoners’ places of residence. The hunger strike conducted by Fariñas is to demand the release of 26 gravely ill political prisoners from Cuba’s Black Spring.
This was not the first visit to Fariñas by members of the Catholic Church hierarchy.
30 June 2010 - Cuba's repressive legal system has created a climate of fear among journalists, dissidents and activists, putting them at risk of arbitrary arrest and harassment by the authorities, Amnesty International said in a report released on Wednesday.
The report Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in Cuba highlights provisions in the legal system and government practices that restrict information provided to the media and which have been used to detain and prosecute hundreds of critics of the government.
"The laws are so vague that almost any act of dissent can be deemed criminal in some way, making it very difficult for activists to speak out against the government. There is an urgent need for reform to make all human rights a reality for all Cubans," said Kerrie Howard, Deputy Americas Director at Amnesty International.
Yosvani Anzardo Hernández, the director of the Candonga online newspaper, is one of many Cuban independent journalists who have been arbitrarily arrested, interrogated and intimidated by the authorities.
In September 2009 he was arbitrarily detained for 14 days, before being released without charge. At the time, police also confiscated his computer, which hosted the website, and disconnected his telephone line.
Although Yosvani Anzardo is resigned to not continuing with the site, he still does not understand why it was closed. "We were hoping that the government understood that what we were doing was exercising a right, we didn't hurt anyone," said the journalist. "We tried very hard to give information about what was happening in the country. They [the authorities] considered this to be dangerous."
The Cuban state has a virtual monopoly on media while demanding that all journalists join the national journalists' association, which is in turn controlled by the Communist Party.
The authorities have also put in place filters restricting access to blogs that openly criticize the government and restrictions on fundamental freedoms.
The Cuban Constitution goes even further in curbing freedom of expression by stating that "[n]one of the freedoms which are recognized for citizens can be exercised contrary to what is established in the Constitution and law, or contrary to the existence and objectives of the socialist state, or contrary to the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism."
The Penal code specifies a range of vague criminal charges that can also be used to stifle dissent, such as "social dangerousness", "enemy propaganda", "contempt of authority", "resistance", "defamation of national institutions" and "clandestine printing".
Provisions of Law 88 on the Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba have also been used to repress criticism and punish dissidents who work with foreign media.
With a judiciary that is neither independent, nor impartial, critics of the government find that an unlimited range of acts can be interpreted as criminal and end up facing trials that are often summary and unfair.
Cuban authorities deny the existence of political prisoners in the country but Amnesty International knows of at least 53 prisoners of conscience who remain incarcerated in the country for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
One of 75 dissidents arrested in the "Black Spring" crackdown in 2003, independent journalist Pablo Pacheco Avila, was sentenced to a 20-year jail term for writing articles for foreign and online newspapers, being interviewed by foreign radio stations, and publishing information via the internet.
Despite some prisoners of conscience being released on health grounds, including Ariel Sigler Amaya in June 2010, most of them, including Pablo Pacheco Avila, are still imprisoned.
The Cuban government has sought to justify its failure to protect human rights by pointing to the negative effects of the embargo imposed by the US.
"It is clear that the US embargo has had a negative impact on the country but it is frankly a lame excuse for violating the rights of the Cuban people," said Kerrie Howard. "The government needs to find solutions to end human right violations, instead of excuses to perpetrate them."
Amnesty International called on the Cuban government to revoke or amend legal provisions that unlawfully limit freedom of expression, end harassment of dissidents, release all prisoners of conscience, and allow free exchange of information through the internet and other media.
"The release of all prisoners of conscience and the end of harassment of dissidents are measures that the Cuban government must take immediately and unconditionally," said Kerrie Howard.
"However, to honour its commitment to human rights, Cuba must also dismantle the repressive machinery built up over decades, and implement the reforms needed to make human rights a reality for all Cubans."
You can download the report on PDF format here.
Reuters- Human rights group Amnesty International urged Cuba to release political prisoners and take other measures to end what it called a "climate of fear" for government opponents, in a report issued on Wednesday.
"The release of all prisoners of conscience and the end of harassment of dissidents are measures that the Cuban government must take immediately and unconditionally," Kerrie Howard, the group's Deputy Americas Director, said in a statement that accompanied the report on Cuba's limits to free expression.
"It is clear that the U.S. embargo has had a negative impact on the country, but it is frankly a lame excuse for violating the rights of the Cuban people," Howard said.
Amnesty International says Cuba has 53 "prisoners of conscience." The independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights says the island has about 190 political prisoners locked away, including the 53 cited by Amnesty.
Cuba views dissidents as mercenaries working for the United States and other enemies to undermine the government.
It has said control of government opponents will end when the United States stops promoting political change in Cuba.
The trade embargo was imposed 48 years ago after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in a 1959 revolution and remains in place, never having achieved its aim of toppling the government.
Amnesty International said Cuban laws restrict freedom of speech and stifle dissent, and are capriciously interpreted by courts serving the desires of the state.
It said the government "has a virtual monopoly on media while demanding that all journalists join the national journalists' association, which is in turn controlled by the (ruling) Communist Party."
The government blocks access to opposition Internet sites, the group said.
Cuba must "dismantle the repressive machinery built up over decades and implement the reforms needed to make human rights a reality for all Cubans," Howard said.
Cuba came under international criticism after the February death of dissident hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo and in recent weeks has slightly relaxed its policies toward dissidents.
One political prisoner was released earlier this month and 12 other moved to jails closer to their families following a meeting between President Raul Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega, head of the Cuban Catholic Church.
Church officials have said they are hoping for the release of more prisoners.
“If I have to retake on my hunger strike, I am ready to go to the death, and thus continue the struggle of Guillermo Fariñas and Orlando Zapata Tamayo” remarked Del Sol. “It is not a capricious personal [thing], the release of those political prisoners who are ill is a just and dignified demand” he added.
He also asked the international community for help: “I want to ask the international community, especially those persons and governments that have shown [us] their good will, to hold the Cuban dictatorship accountable. It is time to clamor for Fariñas. The EU and those wonderful countries that form it, like Spain, can help a lot on this issue.”
You can read the rest of the interview [in Spanish] at the link.
Licet Zamora, the spokesperson for Guillermo Fariñas has told one of the members of our team, on a follow-up call, that Fariñas is convinced that he is going to die. “When I called this morning to monitor his situation, I heard him saying to someone next to him: ‘Tell her that I am about to depart.”
He is “suffering enormously, [from the] raging pain caused by a clot in his neck, his whole body aches, and it is hard [for him] to stand it. He tells me: ‘I want to die to end this situation’” stated Zamora. Fariñas has been in a hunger and thirst strike for more than four months.
“In spite the fact that the medical teams is battling to save the life of Guillermo Fariñas, they have no much hope because this is his [hunger] strike number 23, and his [body] is [virtually][…] collapsed” added Zamora. The rest of the support team to the opposition activist doesn’t have “much hope” either of Fariñas surviving this hunger strike.
Doctors have found a clot in the opposition activist’s left carotid artery. “He continues to be completely inflamed, although even more on his neck and the left arm shows a protrusion, among other inflammations.” Doctors have inclined his bed on a 45º angle “to prevent the clot from flowing [up] in his bloodstream and lodge itself in his head, lungs or heart because if it happened, he could not overcome the thrombosis.”
The medical team has performed multiple tests, and it is awaiting the results to “determine what kind of antibiotics they are going to administer to him at this moment” stated Zamora.
His body suffers from “an inflammation” that began yesterday. He is suffering from aches on his neck and joints, and his body temperature goes through sudden dramatic changes from 41⁰ C (105⁰ F) to 35⁰ C (95⁰ F). According to Zamora, the doctors are keeping a “reserved prognosis” for Fariñas. They are talking of a “situation” with his liver, which comes to complicate even more his already critical state.
It seems that most of his problems originate with his malfunctioning gallbladder. To alleviate the situation, he is “being given some powders [enzymatic compounds] that should be dissolved in water” to drink, but since he is in a hunger and thirst strike, he ingests them dry. This situation “would require surgery, but doctors consider it not possible, since given his weakness he would not [survive] general anesthesia.”
In the following video, you can see how Reina Luisa Tamayo and some members of her family (dressed in white) are harassed by a horde of alleged supporters of the Cuban dictatorship at their home near the Eastern Cuba town of Banes. Notice the police presence and how these women valiantly stand their ground against the insults (they are being called "vermin", and commanded to leave the country) and the aggression of the mob.
We reproduce part of it here:
Some 75 Cuban journalists, librarians, human rights activists and other dissidents were arrested and imprisoned during the "black spring," which started March 18, 2003.
Fifty-two of them remain in Raul Castro's gulag, as of June 24, 2010.
There are hundreds, if not thousands more political prisoners jailed in Cuba because of their opposition to tyranny and dedication to freedom. Their suffering is no less that that experienced by those arrested during the "black spring," and they are no less deserving of your prayers and solidarity. (You can read about many of them by clicking on the names on the right side of this page.)
But the Group of 75 — which now stands at 52, after a series of paroles for medical and other reasons, Reinaldo Labrada Peña completing his sentence and Orlando Zapata Tamayo dying as the result of a hunger strike — is deserving of special consideration because they were at the front lines of the struggle to bring real change to Cuba, to bring nothing less than real democracy, freedom and human rights, whether they were activists gathering signatures for the Varela Project or journalists telling the story of Cuba, the real Cuba, for the world to know.
The dictatorship could not stand it so, as the world focused on the imminent U.S. invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, Fidel Castro struck back, and struck back hard, arresting 75 dissidents and sentencing them to prison terms of up to 28 years for daring to oppose his dictatorship.
And the world barely raised a whisper of protest. The United Nations subsequently elected Cuba to its Human Rights Council and the European Union repealed diplomatic sanctions implemented in response to the crackdown, even though most of those arrested remained in jail.
But in the past four months, since Zapata's death, many who previously chose to ignore the Cuban human rights situation or worse, to appease the Castro dictatorship, have turned on Havana, demanding the release of the Group of 75 and other political prisoners. The Castros have been unmoved, but the pressure has been real.
As horrific as Zapata's suffering was — simply put, he was murdered by the regime — his death has not been in vain. More people now know about the reality of the Castro gulag, and more importantly are now speaking out against it.
We are that much closer to his fellow prisoners being free.
Fidel Castro's action in 2003 was not just an attack on Cuban liberty, it was an assault of freedom everywhere. As long as a single Cuban is jailed because of something he wrote or because he believed every Cuban should have a real vote, we are all less free.
To appease the tyranny in Havana and expect a change in behavior by the dictatorship is as deplorable as the crimes committed by the Castros.
So that's why it is incumbent we all do something on behalf of the Group of 52.
Tell someone why the embargo should remain in place.
Tell someone that Raul Castro is no different than his big brother.
Tell someone Oscar Biscet's story.
Tell someone about Ariel Sigler Amaya, who has been left a shell of his former self after seven years in the gulag. He has been released from prison, and his spirit is strong, but his physical recovery has only begun.
Tell someone about Orlando Zapata Tamayo
If you are Catholic, tell your church leaders to work for the release of all Cuban political prisoners.
Say a prayer.
Go here to learn the names, biographies and faces of The Group of 52, and do not miss the video either.
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
A Cuban court sentenced dissident Darsi Ferrer to 15 months in prison but sent him home Tuesday in what activists saw as a government decision to end his status as a political prisoner. Ferrer, a doctor jailed for 11 months while awaiting trial on charges of illegal possession of building materials and attacking a neighbor, will serve the next four months under house arrest.
But Ferrer said he would not accept the sentence and vowed to continue his dissident activities even if it landed him back in jail.
``Today my compromise with the Cuban people is higher than when they sent me to prison,'' he told El Nuevo Herald in a telephone interview from Havana. ``I know that many [dissident] brothers and thousands of other Cubans remain in prison in sub-human conditions.''
The decision to let him serve the rest of the sentence outside prison was nevertheless seen by other activists as a positive gesture.
``The government took advantage of the trial to close the case because . . . [returning him to prison] would have meant a step back in its effort to show a friendlier face on prisoners of conscience,'' said human-rights activist Elizardo Sánchez.
Ferrer, 40, was named a ``prisoner of conscience'' by Amnesty International in February and received an honorable mention in the 2009 ``Defenders of Freedom'' prize awarded by the U.S. State Department.
Prosecutors asked for a three-year sentence, said his wife, Yusnaimy Jorge. But Raúl Castro's government has been negotiating with Catholic church leaders for the release of some political prisoners and the transfer of others to institutions closer to their homes.
Although Ferrer was charged with common crimes, he and his supporters have steadfastly maintained that the government was trying to silence his political activism.
He is director of the nongovernment Health and Human Rights Center Juan Bruno Zayas and has organized the annual marches in central Havana making World Human Rights day on Dec. 10.
Marc has the audio of a phone interview that Cuban Democratic Directorate's Janisset Rivero conducted [in Spanish] with Escobedo on 6 June 2010.Cuban political prisoner Egberto Escobedo Morales told Cuban Democratic Directorate [in Spanish] today that he has ended a hunger strike he started April 16 because of poor health. But he is continuing his protest in the form of a fast during which he will only ingest liquid nutrients.
Escobedo, whose weight is down to 110 pounds, said he is suffering from colon and lung problems. He is currently being held in the same prison hospital where fellow political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died Feb. 23 — four months ago today — after an 86-day hunger strike.
Escobedo, who has been imprisoned since 1995, reiterated three demands of his protest:
Escobedo also said he is opposed to the lifting of American sanctions on the Castro regime.
- The release of all political prisoners.
- Negotiations between the government and opposition on a democratic transition.
- The allowing of visits to Cuban prisons by international human rights groups.
We honor Zapata by taking on his fight, and demand the immediate and unconditional release of the rest of The 26, and all of Cuba's political prisoners.
Join us on this demand by signing our Declaration now.
Reporters Sans Frontières, the international NGO that defends the freedom of journalists and of expression, had this to say about Dr. Darsi Ferrer's release:
“We are obviously relieved by Ferrer’s release even if he was finally given a jail sentence to match the time he already had spent behind bars,” Reporters Without Borders said. “No one is fooled about the real reason for his detention as this is a country in which the authorities tolerate no public expression of dissenting views. His release was not in any way an act of clemency or, even less so, a sign of an improvement in respect for basis rights and freedoms.”
Cuba still has approximately 200 prisoners of conscience, who include 24 journalists. One of them is the Reporters Without Borders correspondent Ricardo González Alfonso, who has been held since the “Black Spring” crackdown of March 2003.
Dissidents continue to be the target of harassment, repression and hate campaigns by the authorities and their supporters. Hablemos Press, a small independent news agency, reported that two more journalists, José Manuel Caraballo Bravo and Raúl Arias Márquez of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña (APLA), were arrested on 21 June.
Reporters Without Borders reiterates its appeal to the community of Latin American countries to intercede on behalf of Cuba’s imprisoned journalists and dissidents, some of whom have fallen seriously ill since their arrest
To the opposition activist “it was clear that it was not for common crimes that they wanted to [send me to prison] but simply as a punishment for my political ideals, for having a different political opinion from that which the government forces [on the Cuban people].”
He remarked that the trial was nothing more than “a farce”, and pointed out the injustice of which he has been a victim since the beginning: “I do not accept any sentence from this tribunal because I have not committed any common crime, and I would not agree with any kind of sentence in light of this farce orchestrated by Security of State.”
Several opposition activists and foreign diplomats stood in front of the building where the trial was held [as a show of support]. “It was incredibly emotional”—said Ferrer—“I am not ashamed to confess that when I heard the shouts of ‘Liberty!’ I was in the holding cell, waiting to be taken to trial, and tears came to my eyes for the solidarity and fraternity of my brothers in the struggle.”
For the opposition activist it was “something indescribable, they were very courageous, despite that there were many policemen to instill fear. It happened for a long time, and it could be heard many blocks around. They did it valiantly and openly.” “The opposition has shown is valor, despite the difficult circumstances in which it works.”
Ferrer lauded “the support of Cubans [outside of Cuba]” that “is always a breath of fresh air that gives us strength, another reason to continue our fight and not feel alone while struggling with the calamities one faces imprisoned in inhumane conditions.”
He described the conditions to which he was subjected in jail: “Food is terrible, basically inedible and does not meet basic nutritional requirements. I [have been suffering] eleven months of psychological trauma because of the constant mistreatment, [and for being] in a situation unfavorable to [normal] mental health. I conducted three hunger strikes that have caused me anemia.”
Ferrer dismissed all those things as inconsequential, without much significance because it is harder for him to be outside knowing that he has left “many brothers in jail, under the boot of the military and behind bars, [and] that it is more painful than any illness anyone can [suffer] in prison.”
Regarding the dialog between the Catholic Church and the regime, Ferrer said not to have much information due to the lack of access to it in jail. However, he knew of the role of “mediator” that the Church has assumed in the past few weeks “in light of the grave and dramatic situation of the regime, with its long fifty years of abuses, injustices and disaster as a system.”
He remarked that he was “no one to question the position of the Church” and that he “would like to believe the releases are due to its intervention, but I do not have the certainty that things are happening for said efforts.”
“The Cuban people need Solutions for its dramatic situation, and may all be welcome, coming from anywhere they may come.” The most important thing, is that “the rights of Cubans are respected and that there are reforms to alleviate the economic situation.” He also asked for a change in the penal system, to which end he “would invite the Church to negotiate so it is allowed to visit the country’s prisons —overcrowded, where a cruel and inhumane treatment is exerted—and they can celebrate religious services.”
“Scarcity and the failure of the Castroite model is what are pushing the people to defend their rights more actively so that Solutions to our reality are found.” The releases “are due to the International pressure, the courage of the opposition, the unavoidable necessities of the Cuban people who have no chance of a dignified life, and all this failure [that is] unsustainable.” The doctor believes that any reaction from the government happens because of “the pressure of an increasingly cornered people, and the courage of the opposition to achieve freedom for our country.”
By WILL WEISSERT - Associated Press Writer
A Cuban court found prominent opposition leader Darsy Ferrer guilty of purchasing black-market cement on Tuesday, but he was released on time served since it took nearly a year for his case to go to trial.
Human rights officials say that Ferrer was arrested for a common crime officials usually overlook - or punish with a simple fine - in an attempt to silence his criticism of the government.
Ferrer's trial was closed to the media and most of the public, but his wife, Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, said he was found guilty of purchasing black-market building materials and was ordered released. He is supposed to serve the roughly four months remaining on his 15-month sentence at the couple's Havana home.
"I think what happened inside was the fair outcome. It's what we've waited for since the beginning," Jorge told reporters outside the courthouse in the Cuban capital's 10 de Octubre district. "We only wanted to repair our home."
Ferrer was taken to a police station for processing, but was expected to head home soon.
While other prisoners arrived at court together in a van, Ferrer was brought in a police car with two Ministry of Interior agents wearing green uniforms.
Jorge and about 30 relatives and supporters, many of them self-described dissidents, waited outside the courthouse for about two hours, occasionally shouting "Liberty!" and anti-government slogans. Jorge was allowed to enter when her husband's trial started.
Diplomats from the United States, Britain and a few other nations stood in the shade of nearby trees, but they made no comment and left before the verdict was announced. Cuban state security agents in plain clothes watched from surrounding street corners.
A physician, Ferrer is among Cuba's most prominent dissidents. Like most of those, however, he is better known abroad than in his own country, where the state-run media almost never mentions him.
In years past, he organized tiny street demonstrations to mark International Human Rights Day in December, but he has been in prison since July 21, 2009.
The state controls nearly all construction under Cuba's communist system and many people turn to private sources for quicker repairs. Cement and scores of other building materials supplied that way are often pilfered from state stocks.
Ferrer and his wife said they obtained the cement to repair a collapsing wall in their home, and didn't expect it to become a political issue.
Ferrer's release after being held without trial for 11 months could add to signs Cuba's government is softening its stance toward organized dissent.
The government of Raul Castro recently promised Roman Catholic Church leaders to move political prisoners to facilities closer to home, and to give better access to medical care for inmates who need it.
So far, 12 prisoners have been transferred and one, Ariel Sigler, was released for health reasons. Sigler was a boxer when he entered prison seven years ago, but is now confined to a wheelchair.
He was one of 75 leading community organizers, opposition activists and independent journalists arrested in March 2003 during a crackdown on dissent and charged with conspiring with Washington to destabilize Cuba's government - charges both those arrested and U.S. authorities denied.
Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent, Havana-based, National Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation, says Cuba holds 180 political prisoners, a list that had included Ferrer.
Cuban officials say they hold no political prisoners and have the right to jail traitors.
H/T to Marc Masferrer
The #OZT I accuse the Cuban government Campaign has learned from Yoani Sanchez that Dr. Darsi Ferrer has received a 1 year and 2 months sentence.
The tribunal acknowledged Dr. Ferrer’s time served without a trial, and has apparently sent him home to serve the rest of his sentence (three months) under house arrest.
Yoani Sánchez and Katia Sonia Martin, activist with CID [Cuba Independiente y Democrática or Independent and Democratic Cuba] reported on Twitter [in Spanish] that paramilitary hordes prevented them from reaching the tribunal where the trial was being held. The police also arrested activist Hugo Damian Prieto Blanco and took him to an unknown location.
We will continue to monitor the situation, and share information as it becomes available to us. Please keep checking back with us on this post throughout the day.
Via telephone we spoke with Miguel Amado Reyes Fonseca, president of the Commission for Assistance to Political Prisoners & their Families (CAPPF) and Lázaro Prieto Álvarez Director for the Center for Human Rights and Democracy Brigade 2506.
This morning CAPPF and CDHD human rights activists: Miguel Amado Fonseca, Merardo Maldonado Romero, Jorge Arufe Carbonell were detained by State Security Agents while en route to the 10 of October Tribunal to serve as observers in the trial of prisoner of conscience, Dr. Darsi Ferrer.
The activists were threatened and told that if they continued towards the Tribunal they would be arrested and taken to the PNR (National Revolutionary Police) Station.
In the areas adjacent to the Tribunal, there was a large presence of State Security Agents dressed in plain clothes, and Patrol Vehicle No. 341, that customarily patrols the area.
All those who tried to reach the Tribunal were intercepted by these Agents. It is stated that many human rights activists were able to enter the Tribunal despite these acts of harassment.
Cuban prisoner of conscience set to face trial
22 June 2010
Darsi Ferrer, an independent journalist and Director of the Juan Bruno Zayas Health and Human Rights Centre in Havana, has been detained since his arrest in July 2009, just hours before a protest he had organised against repression in Cuba.
He was later charged with receiving illegally obtained goods and "violence or intimidation against a state official", charges that appear completely baseless.
“The Cuban authorities must drop these trumped up charges against Darsi Ferrer and release him immediately“, said Kerrie Howard, Americas deputy director at Amnesty International.
“He has been detained solely for his work promoting freedom of expression in Cuba”.
Darsi Ferrer has been held at a maximum security prison in the capital intended for inmates convicted of violent crimes. Ordinarily, an individual accused of these crimes would be bailed awaiting trial. However, Darsi Ferrer has been refused bail four times.
In February 2010, Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience.
On 9 July 2009, Darsi Ferrer and his wife, Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, were detained by state security officials and police officers just before the protest was about to begin.
Darsi Ferrer was handcuffed and beaten by more than eight police officers. He and Yusnaimy were released without charge a few hours later.
When they arrived home, they noticed that two bags of cement, some iron girders and two window frames, which had been on their property for a few months, were missing. According to neighbours, police officers had confiscated them.
On 21 July, four police officers took Darsi Ferrer in for questioning about the materials. Once at the police station he was detained and driven to a maximum security prison on the outskirts of Havana.
The other charge of "violence or intimidation against a state official" apparently relates to comments Darsi Ferrer was overheard making - that an injustice was being committed and sooner or later things would change in Cuba.
Darsi Ferrer has previously been detained and prevented from leading and participating in human rights events.
Every year since 2006, he has been detained or summoned to a police station on or around 10 December (International Human Rights Day), apparently to prevent him from participating in activities celebrating the day.
The right to a fair trial is limited in Cuba, with courts and prosecutors under government control.
Cuba’s National Assembly elects the President, Vice-President and the other judges of the Peoples’ Supreme Court, as well as the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General.
In addition, all courts are subordinate to the National Assembly and the Council of State, raising concerns over internationally recognised standards for fair trial and the right to trial by an independent and impartial tribunal.
The right to a fair and proper defence is also unlikely to be fully respected, as lawyers are employed by the Cuban government and as such may be reluctant to challenge prosecutors or evidence presented by the state intelligence services.
Source: Amnesty International.
We reproduce Marc's letter to the Cuban government on behalf of Dr. Ferrer.
My name is Marc R. Masferrer. I am a journalist and blogger. I am an American. And I am Cuban.
I am writing to inform you that with the knowledge and experience that comes with being all of the above, I will be watching closely on Tuesday as your government takes to trial Dr. Darsi Ferrer Ramírez.
I know that Dr. Ferrer is innocent of the pending charges, and that the proceedings today will be nothing but a farce. I know this, and so does anyone in the world with a reasonable assessment of your government and what it has done to Cuba for more than 51 years.
I know that Dr. Ferrer is being prosecuted and persecuted solely because of his advocacy for a free and democratic Cuba, a Cuba that Fidel Castro promised before he took power in 1959, a Cuba that he, his government and the communist party have betrayed for more than 51 years.
I know that any libels or slanders launched by the regime and its agents against Dr. Ferrer are nothing but lies.
You may choose to ignore to what I have written; you may not even open this e-mail.
Just know I will be watching. And as I have done for almost 5 years on my blog, I will be holding you and your government to account what it does on Tuesday to Dr. Ferrer. And so will many others around the world.
You may silence Dr. Ferrer, if only temporarily. But you will never silence me and others around the world who admire and support this brave man.
Just know, you will not get away with what you are about to do to Dr. Ferrer.
Still, there is time to save yourself embarrassment and to do the right thing:
FREE DARSI FERRER NOW!
Marc R. Masferrer
Almost four months have passed since the beginning of the ongoing hunger strike by opposition activist Guillermo Fariñas protesting the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and demanding the release of 26 gravelly ill political prisoners.
A few weeks have gone by since the beginning of the negotiations between the Catholic Church, and the higher echelons of the regime —negotiations that have excluded and ignored the members of the opposition and civil society, and whose only tangible results until now have been a revocable “extra-penal license” [parole] for political prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya, and the transfer of 12 others to penitentiaries closer to their places of residence.
Almost four months have passed since we launched the #OZT: I accuse the Cuban government Campaign that now has more than 49,000 signatures —from more than one hundred countries—in support of the immediate and unconditional release of all Cuban prisoners of conscience, including prestigious personalities from the arts, sciences, and politics who represent a wide ideological spectrum. Nevertheless, the Cuban regime —that has had a hold on absolute power for more than half a century— has not taken any significant steps toward the release of the political prisoners, and insists on violating the rights of the entire Cuban people.
None of these results justifies a pause in our campaign. On the contrary, our campaign begins today a second offensive to double the support received in the form of signatures demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Cuban political prisoners. We will put this support to work by bringing it before democratic governments, international organizations and the Cuban regime diplomatic representations around the world.
We call on all of the signatories of our Declaration, and to those who intend to do so, to participate in demonstrations at Cuban embassies and consulates worldwide. These demonstrations will mark the first delivery of signatures this coming 23 July 2010, on the fifth month of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.
We extend the invitation to political parties and organizations from every nation, as well those in Cuba and the Cuban exile, without exclusion. The lack of freedoms and individual rights affects people from every single political current equally.
#OZT: I accuse the Cuban government Campaign renews its promise to continue pressuring the regime in Cuba until it frees all political prisoners, and guarantees all freedoms and rights as spelled in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Here are all the wives of political prisoners from [the provinces] of Pinar del Río, Matanzas, and the great majority of the ones from Oriente y Villa Clara" said Berta Soler, a leader of the group.
There were 5 children among the ladies. They are the children of political prisoners.
Seventy five of the Ladies in White in attendance, marched on Quinta Avenida [Fifth Avenue] in the Miramar neighborhood of La Habana, as they have done for the past seven years. The other five could not march due to their advanced age.
Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of Orlando Zapata Tamayo and a Lady in White herself, was at the church, and later joined the march.
Marching with the Ladies, albeit in a wheelchair to which he has been confined due to his seriously deteriorated health, was recently released political prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya.
“The recent transfers of 12 prisoners have helped their families, but we fight for their release, for their return to their houses, to their homes, because they are innocent”, said Laura Pollán, wife of imprisoned journalist Héctor Maseda.
“We will continue the struggle until they are all released from prison” stated Pollán.
Hat tip and photos, Marc Masferrer
The marginalization of the opposition movements and civil independent organizations that the Castro dictatorship imposes cannot be shared by any prestigious institution. To share in that marginalization as it has happened in Cuba in the past few days, means turning the back on those who need it most.
This is not about politicizing the work of the Church. The relationship between the Holy Seed and independent countries cannot be developed ignoring the relationship between the countries and their respective societies. In the hands of the current regime, the Cuban government is a machine that represses all its citizens, not only its political prisoners. Improving relationships with the Cuban government is not a politically neutral gesture.
We remind the Church, as an institution of the civil Cuban society and as a sovereign country, that any serious negotiation in Cuba about political prisoners must include in its agenda the respect of human rights. The absence of these rights has been the main cause of these incarcerations. Cubans are not looking for a relaxation of the tyranny, but for their inalienable rights, as well as the control of their individual and collective destiny, denied by the Castro dictatorship for more than half a century.
Via Marc Masferrer
The U.S. Interest Section in Havana has granted former Cuban political prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya a visa to travel to the United States to received needed medical care, according to Diario de Cuba, citing a Radio Martí report.
Sigler's body was ravaged during his more than seven years of unjust imprisonment in the Castro gulag. His legs are paralyzed, and in the week since his release his family has witnessed how sick Sigler is.
"Ariel continues to be in critical condition," said his brother, Juan Francisco Sigler Amaya. Juan said Ariel has suffered vomiting, diarrhea, fainting spells, fatigue and cold sweats.
As for the visa, it is only for Ariel, meaning he would have to travel alone, although he does have a brother, Miguel, who lives in Miami.
But before Ariel can get on a plane, the Cuban government will have to grant him an exit [permit] which is never a sure thing.
Cuban opposer Oswaldo Payá, Coordinator of the Movimiento Cristiano Liberación and leader of the Varela Project, denounced today [Thursday, 6/17/10] from Havana that the process of negotiation between the Catholic hierarchy in the island and the Cuban government is excluding the dissidents and said that the Church should act as a “facilitator” of the dialogue amongst all the parts.
In a communiqué released today [Thursday, 6/17/10], Payá also accused the Spanish government of having “accepted the rules of the Cuban government” in its role as interlocutor between the European Union and Cuba, and particularly that the “highest representatives of the Spanish government do not engage in dialogue with the peaceful Cuban dissidence.”
“We believe that Cubans should not be relegated to spectators of this or any other negotiation or dialogue, but must be ready to be protagonists of their liberation,” says the 2002 winner of the Sarajov Award, granted by the European Parliament, after pointing that “nobody must pretend to be a political actor from the Church, because that turns the church into a political entity” instead of a “facilitator of the dialogue.”
Aranguren denies the exclusion
The Bishop of the Cuban province of Holguín, Emilio Aranguren, denied that the Catholic Church has an intention to exclude, although he mentioned that he wasn’t aware of the text written by Payá, reported EFE.
“I don’t think that in any moment the Cuban bishops have that sense of exclusion,” said, at a press conference in Havana, Aranguren, who is also a member of the Permanent Committee of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Cuba.
Aranguren referred to this matter when answering questions from journalists at a press conference in Havana celebrating the X Social Week of Church in Cuba, which was inaugurated yesterday [Wednesday, 6/16/10] by the Vatican Secretary of Foreign Relations, Dominique Mamberti.
Mamberti will not meet with dissidents
The Foreign Secretary of the Vatican, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, will not meet with Cuban dissidents or with the relatives of political prisoner during his official visit to the island, which will go on until Sunday, reported Europa Press (in Spanish).
The Ladies in White, and organization formed by wives and relatives of prisoners of conscience, were also left aside of the meetings scheduled by the Archbishop, in spite of the fact that these women consider themselves practicing Catholic and have managed to continue their traditional peaceful walks in Havana thanks to the support of the clergy.
Both the hierarchy of Cuban Catholic church and the authorities in the island have insisted in unlinking the visit of Mamberti with the dialogue initiated a month ago with the outcome, for the moment, of a “license” for the conditional release of an extremely ill Ariel Sigler Amaya, and the transfer to jails closer to their homes of 12 political prisoners.
Radio Martí informs [in Spanish] that according to the wife of political prisoner Egberto Escobedo Morales, he has been transferred to a hospital in the Cuban capital, La Habana. His health has deteriorated due to his hunger strike.
Escobedo has conducted a two month and two day long hunger strike in solidarity with Guillermo Fariñas, and as a show of support for those Cubans who refused to participate in the regime's electoral farse in April of this year.
He's been serving a twenty year sentence since 1995.
The following op-ed appeared yesterday 16 June 2010 on the Argentinian newspaper La Nación. This is our translation:
*Guillermo Fariñas was not in prison when he started this last hunger strike although he has been detained and imprisoned several times throughout his years as a dissident.Despite the hypocritical condescension of some, the truth is that the communist regime in Cuba is totalitarian, and has generated a social environment in which there is no respect whatsoever for human rights nor individual and political freedoms. The people of Cuba seem also condemned to live in misery, and in all sorts of privations.
Once in a while, a harsh reminder reveals to us the immense cruelty of the regime that has kept Cubans hostage, and transformed the island in a vast prison from which they can get out only if the government allows them; where, furthermore, one cannot think different without committing the crime of having an opinion, punished with prison in Cuban jails, possibly the most inhumane in the world.
This is the shocking message of the recent release of Ariel Sigler, one of the gravely ill Cuban political prisoners. He [is now a] paraplegic due to a neurological disease, wheel chair ridden, with serious problems with his stomach, esophagus and throat, and less than sixty percent of [how much he] weight[ed] when he was arrested.
The health of Ariel Sigler, or more accurately what is left of Ariel Sigler, seems [totally] destroyed. [At] Barely 47 years of age, the president of Movimiento Independiente Opción Alternativa [Alternative Option Independent Movement] looks like a decaying old man. This is how he returned to his family’s house after seven years of imprisonment for thinking differently [from the regime]. He was condemned to twenty years. Despite all that, when he arrived, he promised to continue fighting for freedom. His health may be defeated, but not his courage.
The inhumane treatment he received is in plain sight for all to see, even those who refuse to see. It is possible that the efforts of valiant Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who personally knows what imprisonment is, would have contributed to his [almost too late] release. Perhaps, it is possible that the transfer of other political prisoners with precarious health closer to their relatives will materialize soon.
Sigler, let us remember, belonged to the Group of 75, those imprisoned during Cuba’s Black Spring of 2003. He was kept in several prisons in [the Cuban provinces of] Ciego de Ávila, Villa Clara y Cienfuegos, all far from his place of residence in [the province of] Matanzas. This shows the cruelty of the regime with the dissidents.
In another corner of the island, in this case in a hospital 400 km from La Habana, another inmate, Guillermo Fariñas*, has been on hunger strike for four months. As it happened with courageous dissident Orlando Zapata, Fariñas may die as a result of his voluntary fast. The horror of what happens in Cuba is shocking, and because of that it cannot and should not be silenced.
by Yoani Sánchez for The Huffington Post
The Catholic Church in Cuba seems determined to play a new social role in the face of the inevitable changes that lie ahead for the island. Senior church leaders finally condemned the "repudiation rallies" targeting the Ladies in White, and expressed support for their demands to release of political prisoners. In an unusual gesture, the cardinal himself met with them and offered assurances that he had obtained a commitment from the authorities to end the repressive actions against their peaceful group. In a show of further support, he celebrated mass at Santa Rita's, where the wives, mothers and daughters of the political prisoners, and the women who support them, pray every Sunday, before marching from the church to demand freedom.
As in the other Latin American countries once colonized by Spain, the Catholic church on the island carries enormous weight with the movement for civic engagement. Its influence exceeds that of the syncretic cults with African elements, and the increasingly energetic and numerous Protestant denominations that have come to Cuba, almost all of them from the United States. Relations between the church hierarchy and the revolutionary government have gone through different stages since January 1959. By the sixties the conflicts had already become very sharp, particularly due to atheism being a part of the official ideology, as well as the confiscation of the religious colleges. Entering a church came to be seen as a counterrevolutionary act, and those aspiring to Communist Party membership knew they could not even baptize their children. For more than twenty years Christmas celebrations were forbidden and many churches were left without priests.
In the late eighties, relations began to thaw, after the publication of the book "Fidel and Religion" by the Brazilian priest, Frei Betto, and contacts with the liberation theologians. Ultimately, in 1991, in an unexpected turn of events, the Fourth Communist Party Congress agreed to accept people with religious beliefs into the Party. In 1998, John Paul II visited Cuba and expressed himself clearly: "Let Cuba open itself to the world, and let the world open itself to Cuba." As a result of this historic visit, the church regained a part of its social role.
In the more than 50 years of the current government, representatives of the church have assumed different positions to confront the authoritarian abuses of the government. Some demand, with more or less restraint, that the authorities respect all human rights; others request, offering something more than their cheeks, that they be given small concessions in exchange for their unlimited obedience. At the heart of the Catholic church - among priests and laity - confrontational and complacent positions coexist.
Now, in mid-June, the church is celebrating its Tenth Catholic Social Week and Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's Foreign Minister, is in Cuba to attend. Given the fragile situation of the country, hopefully he will make critical pronouncements which the government may find difficult to assimilate. Two years from now Cubans will commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of the arrival on the island of the image of Cuba's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity; the Pope himself is expected to visit. Although his visit certainly won't have the same impact as the coming of his predecessor, his presence will unleash many hopes. Few are waiting for the appearance of the Virgin to put Cuban affairs to rights. It is hoped that flesh-and-blood human beings, driven by faith or by the interests of the nation, will try to reach an agreement that will pull the country out of the stagnation in which it is mired. The Catholic Church understands that it cannot remain indifferent in the face of these exigencies.
By PAUL HAVEN (AP)
HAVANA — Cuba and a top Vatican official expressed optimism Wednesday that landmark negotiations between the church and Raul Castro's government will continue and indicated they could produce more breakthroughs on the treatment of dissidents and political prisoners.
The comments by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican's foreign minister, and his Cuban counterpart were the latest signal that a month-old dialogue that has already led to the release of an ailing prisoner of conscience and the transfer of 12 others to jails closer to their homes is gaining strength.
"The dialogue that is happening now makes us happy, and I hope that it will be strengthened through my visit," Mamberti said at a joint news conference with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. "I think it is important ... to see the fruits" of such talks.
Rodriguez applauded the role the Church has been playing on the island, and said all signs point to more dialogue.
"We have held fluid and profoundly productive talks," he said. "We appreciate the constructive role of the Church in these matters and we think that all conditions exist ... for these fruitful exchanges to continue."
Neither spoke of any concrete steps that would see the release of more of Cuba's 180 political prisoners. Mamberti said he had no plans to meet with dissidents, though he did not rule it out.
Note to the AP: the tyrannical regime of the Castro brothers IS NOT Cuba.
Read the rest of the news at this link.
At least five Cuban political prisoners are refusing food in a spontaneous trend triggered by the February death of a dissident.
BY FRANCES ROBLES
Egberto Angel Escobedo completed his 17th year in a Cuban prison last Friday, and his 56th day of a hunger strike.
He's at a penitentiary called ``Red Ceramic'' [Cerámica Roja, a former ceramics factory] in Camagüey, where the military keeps him in isolation to prevent other inmates from spreading word of his failing health.
Escobedo is one of at least five cases of political prisoners -- down from seven -- who are refusing food, in what experts say is an extraordinary surge of inmates at different Cuban lockups fighting over different causes. Protesting everything from medical care to prison uniforms, they are using an age-old technique that over the years has met with mixed results.
``I don't recall at least in the last decade seeing so many people in jail on a hunger strike,'' said former political prisoner Ricardo Bofill, who served two stints totaling 15 years. ``There is a political context that contributes to all this. They perceive that this is the moment to pressure the government, that there is momentum.''
Some protesters, like prisoner Diosdado González, quickly have their demands met. His wife's sympathy hunger strike lasted just a day. A dozen other prisoners over the decades, such as Orlando Zapata Tamayo four months ago, died.
Experts say the current strikes, likely fueled by Zapata's death, were uncoordinated, spontaneous and far from unprecedented.
From the fight for independence against the Spanish to the battle against the dictators who came before the Castros, Cuban activists have refused food in a quest to have a spotlight shone on their causes.
In the late 1960s, entire prisons would go on collective hunger strikes to protest conditions. Before 1959, intense media coverage turned hunger strikers into overnight national cause célèbres, said former prisoner José Albertini, who wrote the 2007 Spanish-language book, Cuba and Castroism: Hunger Strikes in Political Prisons.
Albertini's great-grandmother died in the late 1800s while imprisoned for struggling for Cuba's independence. She refused to eat or to feed two of her children, and all three died.
``The hunger striker is political and largely does this for press attention to their cause,'' Albertini said. ``In the 1960s and '70s, they did it out of dignity, because they knew nobody would listen.''
And while journalists are shut out of Cuba's prisons, the proliferation of cellphones and the Internet have helped spread information about hunger strikes that in the past the Cuban government could have kept secret.
``The international community around the world should be up to date on the political prisoners and Cuban citizens who oppose'' the Castro regime, Escobedo said in a message distributed by the Democratic Directorate human rights organization. ``I will continue carrying out Orlando Zapata Tamayo's call to resistance, which cannot be extinguished.''
More at this link.
This communiqué appeared originally in Spanish on our sister blog on Monday 14 June 2010.
The government of Raúl Castro has released one of his approximately two hundred political prisoners, and has transferred other twelve to prisons closer to their places of residence. This is the tangible result of the dialog between the regime and the Catholic Church a month after it was announced.
If the releases were to continue at the same rate, they would take one and a half decades. This prospect is unacceptable, not only to us, but also to the great majority of the internal opposition, the Cuban diaspora and democratic nations. We can support any process that would result in the improvement of the conditions in which the political prisoners are kept, and “extra-penal licenses” [paroled release] for a few, but we will not allow these developments to replace or undermine the efforts toward the immediate and unconditional release of all of them.
This week is going to be decisive to determine the scope of Raúl Castro’s will to release more political prisoners. It is up to him to send an unequivocal sign of his intentions. Without substantial advance in the releases, and without a clear chart for their immediate future, our only choice will be to double the efforts of the #OZT I Accuse the Cuban government Campaign.
Our campaign has received more that 49,000 signatures claiming the immediate release of all political prisoners and respect for human rights in Cuba. Almost 2,000 of these signatures come from the island. Hundreds of others come from public figures that have offered their national and international reputations to back our cause. This is not the end of our efforts for the release of all Cuban political prisoners, but only the basis on which to continue fighting for it.
Next week we will announce the date and further details of the first delivery of the signatures.
- Political prisoner Egberto Escobedo continued his hunger strike, and rejected what he called “attempts at blackmail” by the regime.
- It was announced that political prisoner Dr. Darsi Ferrer will stand trial on 22 June 2010. Dr. Ferrer has been imprisoned without trial for almost a year.
- Several world renowned personalities, including Uruguay’s ex-president Jorge Batlle [note in Spanish], have joined their voices to ours demanding the release of all Cuban political prisoners, and respect for human rights in the island.
The Canadian Press reports that Manfred Nowak, the U.N.'s independent torture investigator, "is deeply disappointed by Cuba's decision to block him from visiting the country for the first time."
[...]the Cuban government informed him it was unable to accommodate his visit before the end of his term on Oct. 30.H/T Babalublog
Nowak said Wednesday that he had received a "clear invitation" from the government earlier this year and had hoped to investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment in the communist country.
The U.N.-appointed human rights expert has made several fruitless attempts to visit the island since 2005.
Cuban Ambassador in Geneva Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez declined to comment, saying he was awaiting instructions on the matter from Havana.
The number is less than the 162 arrests from April although Sánchez pointed out that they have increased significantly in the past few years. The regime has adopted arrests, short detentions and harassment as methods of repression and control.
Sánchez also reported that there were 20 releases of political prisoners for time served. This brings the total number of prisoners of conscience to 180.
When asked about the recent transfer of some political prisoners, Sánchez stated that he hopes the government will keep its word, and transfer the remaining 10 prisoners who are serving their sentences in facilities far away from their places of residence.
More (in Spanish) at the link.
I have been in prison for more than ten months due to my opposition activities, and I do not regret my current situation. On the contrary, from prison I have kept up the fight for a free Cuban nation and to put an end to the ignorance forced upon the people by the regime of the Castro brothers.
In prison I have endured beatings, confinement to punishment cells, deplorable conditions, discrimination, and the assaults and threats of the military personnel; aside from the consequences of three hunger strikes that have further broken my health.
None of this is as painful as knowing the misery and lack of resources that my wife, Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, endures. And now, with the added responsibility of caring for herself and our little eight year old son, as well as maintaining our home, and providing some minimum care for me while I am in prison.
There are enough TV, radio and print reports that show the courage and tenacity of Yusnaimy in her struggle for the freedom of the Cuban people. In many occasions she has suffered beatings, arrests, and her work and testimony help disseminate the truth about Cuba around the world.
Our little Daniel shows multiple psychological traumas as the results of the many acts of repudiation and other injustices exerted upon us by Security of State in his presence.
That my wife and child are forced to go to bed without eating for lack of elementary resources to their subsistence, is a reality I never thought I would have to add to the calamity of my confinement.
Only after his death after more than 80 days on hunger strike, did Orlando Zapata Tamayo become a widely known name. His blood is on the hands of the Castro dictatorship, but maybe his life would have been spared if more of the world had aware of his struggle, and acted on his behalf, before he succumbed Feb. 23 to his protest and the malignant neglect of his captors.
Let us make sure that Zapata's fellow prisoner Egberto Escobedo Morales gets the attention he needs and deserves as he carries out his own hunger strike -- now more than 50 days long -- demanding that the dictatorship respect his human rights and that of all Cubans.
According to Radio Marti, Escobedo is currently in very poor health in the infirmary at the Cerámica Roja prison in Camagüey. The vitamins and other nutrients he is receiving via IV are not making a difference, and fellow political prisoner Jorge Alberto Liriano Linares said Escobedo is at risk of dying if he is not transferred to a hospital.
Despite his poor condition, former political prisoner Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez" told Radio Marti that Escobedo is maintaining his position against the dictatorship. He is refusing to wear the uniform of a common prisoner and to participate in any of the prison's efforts to "re-educate" him.
After more than 50 days on hunger strike, Escobedo still is not one of Cuba's better-known prisoners. He already had been jail for some eight years at the time of the "black spring" crackdown of 2003; he is not part of the "Group of 75."
That is why it is vital that word of his protest be proclaimed over and over again, so that Escobedo -- and his captors -- know that he is not forgotten. In doing so, we hopefully can save his life.
Source: Uncommon sense.
OUR OPINION: Another round of harassment of dissidents
Once again Cuba's 51-year-old regime gives with one hand and takes away with another - even as the European Union is poised to discuss the potential for strengthening economic ties with the communist island.
After the Cuban dictatorship, under international pressure, seemed to be considering moving 26 sick political prisoners to hospitals a couple of weeks ago, officials cracked down again. Last week, they detained 37 dissidents for several hours to prevent them from attending meetings to discuss Cuba's political and economic crisis.
Despite the harassment, dozens of dissidents managed to attend the meetings and voted in solidarity with the Ladies in White, the Cuban women who peacefully march in Havana to call attention to their loved ones' imprisonment. They also discussed the international attention that the February death of hunger-striking dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo sparked.
Prisoners are ailing
Leaders of Cuba's Catholic Church have been in talks with Raúl Castro in an effort to help the 26 ailing prisoners, among 75 who were swept up in 2003 in another crackdown in which the regime accused the dissidents of being U.S. ``mercenaries.'' Back then, there appeared to be another opening on the horizon, too, as Fidel Castro put on his ``charm'' offensive in an effort to sway Republicans in farm-belt states to press the Bush administration to drop the U.S. embargo of Cuba.
Which raises the perennial question: Do the Castros really want trade and diplomatic relations to improve with the United States and the European Union?
It sure doesn't seem like it.
Even as the regime has moved a few dissidents to prisons closer to their homes, it has continued to harass, detain or arrest others. Meantime, another dissident, Guillermo Fariñas, has caught the world's attention with a hunger strike.
Cuba undercuts progress
Spain, under Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's socialist government, has been pressing the European Union to embrace the Cuban regime without using human rights as a condition for more-favorable trade agreements. But with the recent harassment of -- and regime-backed mob violence directed at -- the Ladies in White, the detention of dissidents and Cuba's snail's-pace response to treating the ailing political prisoners, that's unlikely.
The EU's ``common position,'' established 14 years ago by Spain's then-Prime Minister José María Aznar, sought more direct contact with dissidents to nudge Cuba toward democracy. That is seen as a ``unilateral'' strategy by the Zapatero government, which has proposed more talks with Cuba in a ``bilateral'' stance.
Problem is, Cuba's government has shown through its actions that it does not give any consideration to human rights, even when it claims to be in agreement with the United Nations' universal declaration on human rights. That's why it's welcome that the U.S. State Department is poised to release $15 million to international human-rights groups working in Cuba.
The EU, urged by Spain two years ago, lifted sanctions it imposed after Cuba's 2003 crackdown. Now it's Cuba's turn to act, but so far its actions speak loudly of the same old intransigence.
An arrangement between the Castro dictatorship and the Cuban Catholic Church last week led to the transfer of three political prisoners to "work camps" in their respective home provinces
• Dr. José Luis García Paneque, 45, was moved to a camp dubbed "Plan Confianza" in Las Tunas province.
• Iván Adolfo Hernández Carrillo, 39, was transferred to a "Plan Confianza" camp in Matanzas province.
• Félix Navarro Rodríguez, 56, was moved to the San Agustín camp, also in Matanzas.
As for the other three prisoners reportedly transferred, Diosdado González Marrero, 47, and Antonio Díaz Sánchez, 48, were transferred to the Agüica maximum security prison in Matanzas; and Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, 68, was moved to the 1580 prison in Havana.
All six prisoners have been in jail since the "black spring" of 2003.
According to an EFE news report posted on the Asociación Damas de Blanco website, the work camps have less severe security regimens, the food is better and prisoners have better communication with their families.
However, remember this: The work camps, as well as the Agüica and 1580 prisons, are still part of the Castro gulag, and these men are still prisoners of conscience. No promises have been made and when it comes to the dictatorship and the church, we should be skeptical of any promises made.
But hopefully the transfers are the precursors for a more permanent solution — their unconditional release — for these heroes and their families
Artist Geandy Pavón projected the image of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata onto Carnegie Hall during a concert by Silvio Rodriguez. The singer, a privileged member of Cuba’s ruling elite, has served its dictatorship and spread its propaganda for decades.
In Greek mythology, “nemesis” represents divine justice ─a persecutory memory. Zapata, an Afro Cuban plumber and peaceful activist, died last February of a hunger strike. His death is emblematic of the extensive human rights abuses of Cuban totalitarianism.
The artist projects the face of the victim on the façade of buildings hosting his “killers” -Cuban regime representatives- using light as an analogy of truth, reason, and justice. He has staged his performance in New York, Barcelona and Washington.
Recently, Silvio Rodríguez has been calling for “evolution” in Cuba. He should instead sing for FREEDOM.
See Cuba Archive for information on political deaths and disappearances in Cuba. And sign the petition for the release of Cuba’s political prisoners.
Thirty seven dissidents were arrested in Havana between Thursday and Friday as part of a raid from the Cuban political police to avoid the celebration of two important meetings, declared opposition leader Héctor Palacios.
On Thursday, the police tried to prevent the meeting of the Committee for the Transition and arrested 14 people; while on Friday there was a similar raid against the meeting for the annual assembly of the Unidad Liberal de la República de Cuba (ULRC) [Liberal Unity of the Cuban Republic] that was to take place in the house of
opposition member Héctor Palacios. 23 dissidents were arrested.
Those arrested on Friday, the political police has taken them to different police stations throughout Havana, according to the Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos y Reconciliación Nacional [Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation]. The whereabouts of some of the arrested is unknown.
The meeting of the ULRC took place with the attendance of 18 dissidents who managed to enter Palacios’ house before dawn.
Gisela Delgado, member of the Ladies in White, denounced the arrests of several dissidents in Holguín and Guantánamo, who were prevented from traveling to the capitol of the country.
The spokesperson for Guillermo Fariñas, Lisset Zamora, is still under arrest, along with other colleagues from the central Cuban province of Villa Clara, confirmed Palacios to DIARIO DE CUBA (Cuba Daily).
'Fariñas cannot wait five weeks'
Héctor Palacios, president of Unidad Liberal de la República de Cuba told Diario de Cuba that Guillermo Fariñas, in hunger and thirst strike since 101 days, “cannot wait five weeks, because he will not be able to sustain it.”
“At the rate the negotiation between the Catholic Church and the government is going, I believe that Fariñas will die. We must raise our voices so that that doesn’t happen,” said Palacios.
Also, he confirmed that opposition member Félix Bonne, who attended the meetings on Thursday and Friday, reiterated his disposition to go on a hunger strike if Fariñas dies.
Unidad Liberal analized the situation of Fariñas’ health, the subject of political prisoners and the solidarity with the Ladies in White and Ladies in Support [of the Ladies in White]. About the latter the say that “solidarity cannot be limited” and encourage them to continue their peaceful walks.
This new repressive act comes in the middle of an uncertain negotiation between the regime and the Catholic Church to “improve” the conditions of the political prisoners.
(Source: Diario de Cuba).
Alejandrina García, Diosdado’s wife, told Radio Martí that the prison warden, Major Emilio Cruz summoned her to the jail to inform her that her husband had been placed in isolation because he refuses to dress in the same uniform of the common prisoners. He told her that she and her son had to plead with her husband so that he would wear the uniform
The Lady in White told Major Cruz that her husband had refused to wear the common prisoners’ uniform since 2003, and that she would not plead with him. The warden then refused to let her see her husband, and informed her than from now on, she could only see him every three months.
More in Spanish, including audio, at the link.