On Friday, April 23rd, a group of human rights activists had planned on delivering at the headquarters of the Cuban Parliament the declaration of the “#OZT: I accuse the Cuban government,” alongside the more than 52 thousand signatures from all over the world that support the demand for an immediate and unconditional release of all Cuban political prisoners.

A police raid under which several citizens were banned from leaving their houses and others were arrested when they were in the nearing their destination, impeded that these signatures reach the National Assembly of the People (ANPP, in Spanish), a form of government that, from many years, had the motto “the power of the people, that is the real power.”

What follows is the report from the coordinator of the illegal party Cuba Independiente y Democrática (Cuba Independent and Democratic, CID, in Spanish), regarding the raid against the human rights activists and peaceful dissidents:

Repression against the members of CID for the delivery to the Cuban Parliament of the signatures gathered by the “#OZT: I accuse the Cuban government” campaign

In commemoration of the fifth month of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the “#OZT: I accuse the Cuban government” campaign collected 51168 signatures worldwide condemning the premeditated assassination of the prisoner of conscience and demanding the release of all Cuban political prisoners. These signatures were attempted to be delivered at several Cuban consulates and embassies around the world and a team of activists of the (illegal) party Cuba Independiente y Democrática (CID) planned on delivering then on July 23rd at 10:30 am at the headquarters of the Cuban Parliament, located on Avenue 42, between 23rd and 25th Streets, in the municipality of Playa, Havana.

Here’s a detailed account of what happened to the activists of CIF from July 22nd -24th.

July 22nd, 2010

At 6:00 pm, the Departamento de Seguridad del Estado (the political police, DSE, in Spanish) ordered the house arrest of Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, a delegate of CID in the municipality of La Lisa and President of the hard-line and boicot platform “Orlando Zapata Tamayo”, as well as to Lazara Bárbara Sendiña Recalde, neighbors of 89 Street # 21410 between 214 y 216, in the municipality of La Lisa, for which a large number of policemen were deployed around their house, impeding the access to any pro democracy activists and checking the passersby against their ID cards, asking where they were going; besides they interrupted the home and cell phone lines of Yasnely Gainza Sendiña, daughter of Lazara Bárbara Sendiña Recalde, from9:25 pm, of July 22nd till 6:00 pm, of July 25th. The cell phone of Ricardo Santiago Medina Salabarria, Secretary of Attention to Political Prisoners, as well as the mobile lines of Katia Sonia Martín Véliz, coordinator of CID in the western part of the island, and her aunt, Amelia Véliz Pérez, until after 8:00pm of July 23rd. In the municipality of La Lisa, at around 6:00pm, Luís Enrique Labrador Ruíz, activist of CID was kidnapped by the Political police, while he was getting a haircut.

July 23rd, 2010

At 7:00 am, “Pavel”, an officer of the Political police showed on the streets a judicial order of house arrest against Ricardo Santiago Medina Salabarria, Secretary of Attention to Political Prisoners, and his wife, Katia Sonia Martín Véliz, coordinator of CID, signed and approved by a fiscal of the headquarters of the political police “Villa Marista;” but he refused to let them read the act, alleging they could destroy it. This very officer told them that there were seventy (70) agents, armed with sticks, with orders to beat them and even kill them if that were necessary, because the Castro brothers were very upset with the subversive activities of the CID. At that time, Abdel Rodríguez Arteaga, delegate of CID in Havana y Aimé Cabrales Aguilar, Attention to Political Prisoners in Havana were at the house of Ricardo and Katia. At 10:00 am, Katia went to the corner and agent “Pavel,” surprised, told agent “Ariel,” who was the other one assigned to the entrance of their building: “let her come back.” Ricardo, Aimé and Abdel were able to exit the apartment and shout out loud the reason why they were prevented from exiting, managing to catch the attention of neighbors and passersby. Katia was dragged by force to the interior staircase that leads to her apartment.
Elizabeth Linda Nañonga Kawooya Toca (who is 6 months pregant), wife of Lisbán Hernández Sánchez, delegate of CID in the municipality of Centro Habana was impeded from arriving to the apartment of Katia and Ricardo. Someone was able to make a phone call to inform the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN, in Spanish) to let them know what was happening.
An order of house arrest was also issued against Richard Morera Ramos, with residence in San José Street # 17714 between América and Aleja, Guardiola neighborhood, in the municipality of San Miguel del Padrón, Havana; the same for Jorge Félix Candelario Martínez, delegate of CID in the municipality of Habana del Este, with residence in building H-62, Apt. 15, Zone 14, Alamar, and Aramís Tudela Pérez, Attention to Political Prisoners in the municipality of Habana del Este, with residence in building H-54, Apt. 13, Zone 14, Alamar. Their buildings were heavily watched by numerous political police agents.

The following activists were arrested as they approached the area of the headquarters of the Cuban Parliament, located in 42nd Avenue and 25th Street, in the municipality of Playa: Lázaro José de la Nodal Usín, vice delegate of CID in the municipality of La Lisa, who was then taken to the 4th Unit of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR, in Spanish), located in the corner of Infanta and Amenidad, in the municipality of Cerro, and then taken on July 24th to the Departamento de Técnicas Investigativas (a branch of the political police, DTI in Spanish). Eduardo Pérez Flores, activist, was taken to the 4th Unit of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR, in Spanish), located in the corner of Infanta and Amenidad, in the municipality of Cerro, and released after 24 hours, Francisco Sa Fuster, activist, was released after 4pm of July 23rd. Lisbán Hernández Sánchez, a resident of Centro Habana, was taken to the police unit located in the corner of Zanja and Dragones, and placed in a cell with transsexuals infected with HIV, who claimed the police to get him out there; one of the transsexuals was bleeding from the wounds of a sex transplant. Robmer Gálvez Urrutia, activist in the municipality of 10 de octubre, was taken to the police unit of of Zanja and Dragones, in Centro Habana. Leydis Coca Quesada, vice delegate in the municipality of Playa, was released near her house. Niurka Caridad Ortega Cruz, delegate in the municipality of Boyeros, was taken in police car #315 and release in Vía Blanca highway, in the border of provinces Havana and Matanzas. During the time of their arrests, they all kept a hunger strike, refusing also to drink water. Luís Enrique Labrador Ruíz, activist of CID in the municipality of La Lisa, who was originally arrested and taken to the 5th police unit of the PNR, located in 7th Avenue and 62 Street, in the municipality of Playa, from 6:00 pm on July 22nd until 4:00 pm on July 23rd, was then taken to the police unit located in the corner of Zanja and Dragones, in the municipality of Centro Habana, where he spent all his time shouting anti-establishment slogans and “Zapata lives!” until he lost his voice. He was release after 6:00 pm on July 23rd. At 6:00 pm, the officer of the political police activated the phone line of Katia’s house and told her that the house arrest order had been lifted. At that time, Ricardo and Abdel contacted the CCDHRN.

July 24th 2010

Finally at 1:30 pm, Katia Sonia Martín Véliz, made a phone call to the “Section 21” of the political police, explaining to them that a group of 16 activists of CID was in front of the police unit at the corner of Zanja and Dragones awaiting the release of the arrested activists and that if they weren’t released they’d protest in front of the police unit demanding that they be set free. “Section 21” approved the release of Sergio García Argentel and Lisbán Hernández Sánchez, after 2:00 pm, of July 24th; then, past 6:00 pm, Robmer Gálvez Urrutia was released. Lázaro José de la Noval Usín, vice delegate of CID in the municipality of La Lisa, was under arrest in the DTI in the municipality of 10 de octubre until after 8:00pm of Sunday, July 25th.

Major Pedro Chávez, instructor in the political police heaquarters of Villa Marista, drove his car, a blue Lada, against Ricardo Santiago Medina Salabarria, in the corner of Matadero and Calzada del Cerro, at 5:45 pm.

Katia Sonia Martín Véliz
Coordinadotor of CID in the Western Region of Cuba

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The Miami Herald and other McClatchy newspapers reproduce today a report by Fabiola Santiago based on the testimonials of the Cuban political prisoners recently deported to Spain. Here are some fragments:

About the food they were given daily for seven years:
A hairy heap of ground pig eyes, cheek, ears, and other unidentifiable parts served as a main course.

The meal, nicknamed patipanza, is one of the typical dishes served in Cuban prisons, according to political prisoners freed and expatriated to the Spanish capital under an agreement negotiated by the Roman Catholic Church and the Spanish government.

"They didn't even bother to take the hairs off the animal's skin and it stank," says Mijail Bárzaga, 43, who spent seven years in four Cuban prisons.

In the Havana prison El Pitirre, where he spent two years, the food was more edible than in the others, Bárzaga said, but the portions of rice, watery picadillo and pea stew served to the prisoners kept getting smaller and smaller.

"The guards would steal from our portions, they would steal from the prison ministry to feed their families and to sell in the black market," Bárzaga said. "To steal from a man in prison who can't do anything about getting himself nourishment is denigrating -- the lowest point of humanity."

Often there was dirt at the bottom of the boiled concoctions. Other times, worms and bugs in the food.

"Kafka couldn't have written it worse," said Ricardo González Alfonso, an independent journalist sentenced to 20 years after his arrest in the Black Spring of 2003.
The cells in which they were kept:
Small prison cells became filthy with overflowing feces. Rats, cockroaches and scorpions shared their jail cells, Julio César Gálvez said.

Just when the prisoners and their families adjusted to a prison, they were transferred.

"I was constantly moved from prison to prison and my family couldn't visit me," said José Luis García Paneque, a plastic surgeon who was a burly, 190-pound man when he was sent to prison and now weighs 101 pounds.

Paneque takes a reporter's notebook and drew a sketch of one of his prison cells -- a hole on the floor that served as toilet and shower, a sink with a spigot turned on only a few minutes a day, a metal bed with a thin foam mattress.

"The cells are all the same -- tiny, windowless," he said.

The solitary cells, used for punishment, were even worse.
On coexisting with common prisoners:
Being among criminals posed a threat, but the political prisoners said they earned their respect by explaining to them why they were in prison.

"We gave them a political education and they were helpful to us," Bárzaga said.

When he first arrived in a Villa Clara prison, he added, there were no utensils available. The presos comunes -- those in prison for common, rather, than political, crimes -- made him a spoon from a can and a cup from a cut-up water bottle.

Some of the common prisoners helped the political ones smuggle out letters and documents denouncing conditions
Human horror:
The political prisoners also witnessed how common prisoners resorted to drastic measures, making themselves ill -- setting fires to their mattresses and wrapping themselves in them, cutting their eyeballs -- to get a guard's attention to be sent to the infirmary.

"I saw a prisoner inject excrement in his veins. Nobody told me this, I saw it with my own eyes,'' said Omar M. Ruiz Hernández. "They sewed their mouths with wire. They do all this to protest the conditions, to get something they've been denied."
Read it all, share it, spread the word, and help us fight for the freedom of all remaining Cuban political prisoners, and for the respect of human rights and dignity in the archipelago.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

The Miami Herald reproduces this The New York Times article by former Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorge Castañeda regarding the latest political developments in Cuba:

The Castros blink


Finally, someone in Cuba went eyeball to eyeball with the Castro brothers, and they blinked.

On July 7, Guillermo Fariñas, a dissident on a hunger strike for more than four months, achieved what no one has done before. Through a combination of careful confrontation, personal fortitude and international support, Fariñas forced Raúl Castro to negotiate with Cuba's Roman Catholic Church -- which led to the immediate release of five political prisoners, with 47 more to follow over the next four months.

Of course, this is not the first time that the Cuban regime has freed political prisoners. The many other instances were almost always in exchange for political and economic concessions.

In 1978, Fidel Castro allowed more than 3,000 jailed dissidents to leave for the United States after a group of exiled Cubans from Miami visited Havana. Many in the Miami group subsequently advocated for ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

In 1984, Castro freed 26 prisoners; in 1996, three; and in 1998, more than 80, after visits from, respectively, Jesse Jackson, Bill Richardson and Pope John Paul II, according to The Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer.

Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos desperately tried to play a role in the Fariñas case. But this time, the circumstances were different. Fariñas was willing to die for his demands; he saw how they were, in a sense, reinforced by the death of another hunger striker, Orlando Zapata, last February.

The Castros knew that Fariñas would die, too, if they didn't accept his demands, and that his death would make any improvement in relations with the European Union or President Obama even more difficult to acheive.

The island's economic situation has gone from dire to worse in recent times. Raúl Castro recognized that, without a rapprochement, he couldn't achieve whatever changes he might hope to make -- hence the dialogue with the church and the release of the prisoners.

Despite Fariñas' courage and political skill, the significance of the agreement between Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega and Raúl Castro is modest.

• First, circumstances may change during the four months that will pass before all the prisoners on the list are freed. Meanwhile, the remaining prisoners are still hostage to the Castros' dealings with the church and possibly the European Union.

• Second, an additional 100 political prisoners in Cuba, and perhaps many more, are not included in the agreement. [The government has since indicated it may free all political prisoners, but that has not been confirmed.]

• Third, articles 72 and 73 of the Cuban criminal code, which establish the notion of ``dangerousness'' -- an outrageously inexplicit word that has been denounced by Human Rights Watch -- are still on the books.

According to Cuban law, anybody can be jailed at any time, even before committing a crime, if they are perceived to have a penchant for doing so. And political opposition to the regime is a crime.

• Finally, it is unclear whether the 52 dissidents will be freed in Cuba or deported to Spain and elsewhere. Fidel Castro has used expulsion from his homeland as a political instrument for more than half a century, with great success.

Whether the church and Spain should lend themselves to this ploy is debatable. Even ``voluntary'' exile is a non sequitur: Asking political prisoners in poor health to sign a statement that they will willingly accept exile is hardly magnanimous or ethical.

Most important, however, is whether small gestures like the new agreement alter the human-rights situation in Cuba and represent the beginning of a transition in Cuban politics.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch, hit the mark when he said that he could not congratulate a government for freeing people who should never have been jailed.

The real issue is whether there is any justification for the survival of a regime that acknowledges the existence of political prisoners, uses them as bargaining chips and needs to be forced by dead or dying hunger strikers to liberate any of them. Little can be done to change this situation until the Cuban people decide they have had enough. Meanwhile, voters should question their leaders' having any dealings with the Cuban regime.

Cuban blogger Claudia Cadelo, informs through Twitter that Guillermo Fariñas has been discharged from hospital, and is at home.

There were no details on his current condition, but we will update the post as soon we obtain further them.

UPDATE: Italian news agency ANSA informs in Spanish details his discharge from hospital. It states that Fariñas will have to use a wheelchair due to a neuropathy caused by his 135 day long hunger strike (his 23rd) and that he still suffers from a clot in one of his carotids that will take years to treat.

The opposition activist told the reporter that because of his motor limitations, he will continue his work as an independent journalist from his home.

We are happy to see Fariñas out of hospital, albeit not completely healthy. We will monitor his situation, and wish him a speedy recovery. And, we are most grateful to this great Cuban for his fearless fight, for risking his own life for the release of Cuban political prisoners.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

A group led by Ana Fuentes, member of this campaign’s organizing team, has successfully delivered the more than 52,000 signatures supporting our Declaration for the Freedom if Cuban Political Prisoners at the Cuban consulate in Seville, Spain. This is the first successful delivery after we announced the start of such deliveries. Other similar efforts have been met with rejection and resistance (in one case, physcally violent) by the regime’s representatives in La Habana, Madrid, Barcelona, Montréal and New York.

In Seville, it was possible to deliver the signatures to a Spanish administrative employee at the consulate. The Cuban diplomats refused to come out to receive them, but told the Spaniard to accept them.

In the group there were several Cubans, and among them was Eddie Fernández a participant of Pedro Pan Operation, as well as several Sevilleans, including a lady representing the Asociación de Víctimas del Terrorismo [Association of Victims of Terrorism].

A reporter for the local El Correo newspaper was also present.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

The Miami Herald informs that Ariel Sigler Amaya has arrived in Miami.

The newspaper reports on his statements to the press before departing La Habana:

"I'm going, looking to regain my health," he told reporters at the Havana airport before boarding his flight. "When I arrive in Miami . . . they are waiting for me and will take me to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where I hope to regain my strength."
Sigler said he eventually planned to return to Cuba "because this government's days are numbered."

"This dictatorship has very little time left," he said, "and I think this will be a temporary departure."

Argus Press photo showing Sigler Amaya's wife, Noelia, carrying him to a different wheelchair after arriving at José Martí International Airport in La Habana before departing for Miami this morning

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Marc Masferrer reproduces some fragments of an interview with Dr. Darsi Ferrer by Cuban independent journalist Juan Carlos González Leiva originally published on Payo Libre.

This is our translation:

Juan Carlos González Leiva: How is the health of Darsi Ferrer?

Dr. Darsi: First, I would like to say that I am very happy with your visit. One comes out of prison affected [by psychological issues] but I am in better spirits.

JC: According to [the regime’s] accusations [against you], you should have received a 3 year sentence. To what do you attribute your premature release?

Dr. Darsi: Many factors contributed to, and resulted in my release. In first place, [there was the] recognition of my status as a prisoner of conscience by that prestigious institution, Amnesty International, for what I will be eternally grateful. Also, [there was] the immense solidarity from the international black movement, and, of course, the solidarity of my Cuban brothers, here and in exile.

JC: What does Valle Grande prison represent to you?

Dr Darsi: This is a prison for those who are in preventive custody [not tried yet], [but] despite that it does not differ from [all] other Cuban penitentiaries. Life conditions are totally subhuman and the penal population suffers the cruelest and most inhumane treatments. For example, medical attention is almost [non-existent] because in spite of having doctors on staff, [in reality] they do not exist, neither is there equipment to perform a hemoglobin or glycemic test. Everything is a [smoke] screen [and] that is why there are inevitable deaths. Only in the past 11 months, three inmates died there for that reason. Overcrowding is terrible in the 18 galleys. They are 35 meters long by 5 meters wide, [and] there 120 inmates survive with only half a meter of vital space for each one of them. Many of them have to sleep on the floor because there are not enough beds.

Hygiene is horrible, they only run the water for a few minutes three times a day, every other day, and the heat is unbearable. Infectious diseases are very frequent, it is enough that one inmate gets sick [for the rest to be infected]. Contact with the family is limited to two hours once a month. The psychological trauma is very big. The scarce nourishment is of terrible quality and does not satisfy the needs of any human organism. As protein, they give you a tiny piece of chicken every 15 days. The rest of the food is a [disgusting mix] that is regularly [given to the prisoners] in state of decomposition. This brings lots of diseases and health problems.

The mistreatment and the horrible conditions make the inmates aggressive. There are frequent fights. Corruption is rampant. The guards are more criminals than the inmates are, and they have several inmates in their fold who control all their illicit businesses for their own personal benefit, and the most lethal are used to impose discipline. The guards are the ones that facilitate the sale of rum and the high drug use. Religious assistance and freedom of worship are not allowed. There are several disabled [inmates] [whose conditions] are incompatible with the prison system. I met blind, deaf and some in wheelchairs. In the political prisoners’ case, they survive in constant danger since the guards constantly encourage assassins to harass them and attack them. It is Hell, a nightmare that if you do not experience it, you cannot imagine how horrible the Cuban jail system is.

JC: Could it be said that Cuban jails are centers of terror?

Dr. Darsi: Prisons here make up such a gruesome picture that words cannot describe it in all of its magnitude. This is the reason why the government does not allow monitoring by the [UN’s] Rapporteur Against Torture, His Excellency Manfred Nowak. [They] have much to hide. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners are not respected at all, and even national laws are violated daily in there.

JC: What is the number of prisoners inside Valle Grande prison right now?

Dr. Darsi: There are 18 galleys with a total penal population around 2000 inmates. It must be noted that, as I said, this is a prison for [those] awaiting trial, and it is the only one that receives those who are under [arrest awaiting trial] in all of the [province of] Ciudad de La Habana. Almost every day, around 80 to 100 new inmates are admitted, which is incredible. Of course, this does not include those already sentenced who are sent directly to other penitentiaries. In other words, the number of Cubans who are sent to prison daily is alarming. That is why I can assure [anyone] that the Cuban penal population is not 100,000 inmates as it has been said until now, but that it is well above 200,000 convicts. It is such an amazing [uncontrolled growth] that it forces the government to hide it.

JC: Could it then be stated that more than 500 people are incarcerated each week only in La Habana?

Dr. Darsi: I do not say 500 people, but a much higher number because one has to take into account the prisons for women that are 4 or 5; the juvenile prisons, and the uncountable penitentiaries in the city and province of La Habana. The Combinado del Este prison alone keeps around 5000 inmates behind bars. These are the reasons why I call on all people and institutions around the world to make an even greater effort to help humanize the Cuban jail system, alleviating the suffering of hundreds of thousands of convicts and their families.

JC: What are the race and age characteristics of the penal population at Valle Grande?

Dr. Darsi:  Around 80% are black and more than 70% of the total is not over the age of 25. It is very sad to see a country’s youth behind bars, living in cruel and deforming conditions, surviving as non-persons.

JC: Marxism books state that criminality is a leftover from capitalism; however, Cuban convicts are in their vast majority young and black, born after the revolution. How can this be explained?

Dr. Darsi: The lack of opportunities, the arbitrariness, the injustices…I would say that they [affect] all the same. What happens is that for cultural and economic reasons, blacks were behind [everyone else] when the revolution triumphed, in other words, blacks were behind, and blacks were left much further behind later. Today are blacks the one who live in “solares” [tenements], those who are barred from hotels and those who are not [represented] in the [highest] political [levels]. It is enough to say that in a country where surviving is hard for everyone, those issues are tenfold for blacks. All of this forces blacks to be linked to issues like the black market. They go beyond what is tolerated by the authorities and remain in [extreme poverty] being much more alienated, discriminated against and displaced than whites. This is a grave problem because this is not a [mainly] Caucasian society. Cuba is a country where he who does not have Congo [blood] has [that] of Carabalis. We are a racial “ajiaco” [stew], despite the government’s efforts to reinforce the idea that black is negative. This is why blacks in prison receive the worst treatment and contempt from the guards. I can conclude by stating that blacks have been thrown by the so-called revolution into the lowest sectors of [Cuban] public life.

JC: What is the explanation for the use of drugs and alcohol at Valle Grande?

Dr. Darsi: The average salary of the guards is extremely low. They live in misery as well, that is why most of the practice corruption. Inside of the prisons, corruption is huge. It is precisely the guards who own this business of alcohol and prescription drugs sales. It is they who bring those noxious substances to the penitentiaries around the country. It is incredible and scandalous, but tremendously real. These are the direct causes of the frequent fights and murders. Furthermore, under the influence of alcohol and drugs, the inmates mutilate themselves or inject [themselves with the] AIDS [virus] with syringes supplied by the guards. One day, I saw the guards bringing six AIDS patients into my galley and left them to live with us. Some had bleeding wound since they had hurt themselves. Logically we were all [exposed] to the risk [of infection].

JC: What treatment receive those who are physically and mentally disabled at Valle Grande?

Dr. Darsi: They are victims of the worst treatments because since they are sick, they do things that irritate the guards.

JC: How would you describe your trial?

Dr. Darsi: I was tried behind closed doors by the Municipal Tribunal of Diez de Octubre [a municipality in La Habana] this past 22 June, and sentenced to 1 year and 3 months of prison. [During the trial] Security of State cordoned off the area [surrounding the tribunal] and subjected me to a biased process, lacking any [due process]. They tried me 11 months after my arrest, and they sentenced me after I had already served the time, on the trumped up charges of “Sabotage and receipt [of stolen merchandise]” that implies that I must serve another three months in this sort of house arrest. I do not accept this condition, and I am ready to be sent back to prison whenever the political police would want because I am innocent and my trial was nothing but a circus. My family, friends and neighbors could attend.

JC: Do you continue to have the same dreams?

Dr. Darsi: Cuba continues to be a large jail, and our people still lives the same drama of the destruction of all their freedoms and rights. This is what motivates me to continue fighting for democracy and [the rule of law]. I am 40 years old, and I do not know freedom. I move forward with even more emphasis so that soon Cuba becomes a place of happiness, prosperity and opportunities for all.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

As we informed last week, Ariel Sigler Amaya arrives in Miami tomorrow (today) 28 July 2010.

A humanitarian fund account has been set-up for him at BB&T Bank of Miami to help with his healthcare costs.

Ariel Sigler -Humanitarian Fund
Acct # 0000148280827

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Italian newspaper Il Giornale, informs [in Italian] that the popular radio show  Zapping [Mix It Up] conducted by veteran journalist Aldo Forbice for Radio RAI, has collected one hundred thousand signatures for their campaign Liberiamo i prigionieri politici a Cuba [Free the Cuban Political Prisoners].

Their campaign was announced 12 April 2010, and has just concluded. It coincided with ours and Guillermo Fariñas' 135-day long hunger strike. It has been recognized and "praised by Cuban opposition activists and leaders within and outside of Cuba like Carlos Carralero" and Andria Medina "of Unione per le libertà a Cuba [Union for the Freedom of Cuba], Armando Valladares, Vladimiro Roca", Laura Pollán, and others as a "contributing factor to the recently announced release of 52 political prisoners after the mediation of the Spanish government and the Catholic Church", according to the newspaper article.

Aside from radio, it was also widely y tirelessly promoted on blogs, and the social networks Facebook and Twitter.

The signatures will be delivered to the Cuban embassy in Rome, and sent to Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament.

We extend our congratulations to the Liberiamo i prigionieri politici a Cuba Campaign, and our eternal gratitude for working so diligently for the freedom of all Cuban political prisoners.

RSF sat with Ricardo González Alfonso, at Motel Welcome in Madrid for an interview on 14 July.

Cafeteria of the Hotel Welcome, where the Spanish government is lodging the 11 Cubans who arrived in Spain on 14 July

Seven of them are journalists and one of the seven is Ricardo González Alfonso, who has been the Reporters Without Borders Cuba correspondent since 1998. He was arrested along with 74 other Cuban dissidents during the notorious “Black Spring” of March 2003 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The Spanish section of Reporters Without Borders went to greet him on his arrival at Madrid’s Barajas airport and, because of the enormous international interest, organised a news conference for him and the other journalists on 17 July.

In the following interview, he talks about his impressions since his release and his plans for the future.
What were your initial feelings on leaving prison?

There have been various feelings. The first is one of being physically in Madrid and mentally still in Cuba. In conversations, I find myself saying ‘here’ and I am referring to Cuba. There was a more intimate and personal feeling, the one I had when I woke up next to my wife for the first time in seven years and four months. In prison, there were conjugal visits ever five months, then every three months and finally every two months, but they were three-hour visits. And you missed waking up beside your wife. But there is a detail that is worth recalling: when I was on the plane flying to Spain, I saw a knife for the first time in a long while. A metal knife. Something very simple but forbidden inside prison. It surprised me. It almost frightened me. Another detail: the emotion you feel facing you first plate of hot food in seven years. It is a jumble of little things that may give an idea of the confusion I feel at this moment, and the need to adapt psychologically to the new circumstances.

How did you experience your release, from the moment you received the news until you left Cuba?

Everything began with a rumour, which I heard in the national prison hospital, where I was being treated for a foot infection. A fellow inmate, a reliable person I trusted, told me that he had heard on the radio (in the Combinado del Este building where he was) that they were going to free 45 prisoners. That was the first news. A little later, in the same hospital, I met another colleague, Julio César Gálvez (another journalist, who was also released). He told me he had heard something similar but he still did not have any details. When I got back to my cell, I asked for the newspaper, Granma, and there I saw that the news was confirmed. It spoke of releases but did not give the names of the chosen detainees.

Later, at around 6 pm on the same day, 8 July, I got a call from Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, telling me that my name was on the list of prisoners who were going to be released and flown to Spain, if I was willing. I said that going to Spain could be interesting. When I met my wife Alida, she was thinking of emigrating to the United States. But I was not contemplating emigrating. So we decided that we would separate when her exit permit arrived (which in Cuba is issued by the interior ministry). But, as the years went by, we became closer and more in love with each other, and Alida’s exit permit did not arrive. Finally, a few days after I was arrested, Alida’s one-way exit permit finally arrived, presumably to get her to abandon me. But she refused to abandon me. She rejected the permit and decided to stay here with me. It was obviously the kind of decision that creates a strong bond between two people, stronger than the initial commitment to each other.

When the releases first began, in the first half of 2005, we talked about it and I told her that, if they released me and then took a year to give me an exit permit, we would stay in Cuba. But if they gave us the exit permit before the year was up, we would leave. Years later, I am a granted a release together with an immediate exit permit. So, I kept the promise I had made to my wife, in response to her loyalty to me, and we decided to emigrate. The first phase was difficult for me, because my younger son from my first marriage did not want to leave his mother, and his mother did not want to emigrate. But her friends and I managed to persuade her. I was fortunate in finally being able to emigrate with the two children from my first marriage, with my wife, of course, and with my children’s mother. So I can say I am one of the few Cubans with all of his family united.

When you were told of your imminent release, did Cardinal Ortega tell you that you could choose between staying in Cuba or leaving?

No, it was very clear. What he told me was that those who left with me would be able to return without a permit. This is exceptional. Any Cuban who emigrates definitively has to apply for a re-entry permit in order to return. This of course violates article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but that is the situation in our country. The cardinal also told me that, for the first time in 50 years, the property I left behind, my home, would not be confiscated. Those were the details he gave me. But he told me I had to take an immediate decision.

In other words, you had to give him your reply in the course of the same phone call?

Yes, at once. The cardinal said that the processing was going to be very fast that not a minute could be lost. I had to give him my reply at once.

The conditions in which you were held for the past seven years, what were they like?

There were various stages. The investigative phase and the trial itself, a total of 36 days, were spent in Villa Marista, the State Security headquarters. The light was on all the time. I had to sleep next to the light in a windowless cell. The water for bathing and drinking was rationed. The interrogations were in the morning, the afternoon, the night and in the early hours. So you had only short spells for sleeping. This went on until the trial. After the trial, the same conditions continued but we were allowed out of our cells in the morning and afternoon and were able to converse, because there was no longer any point interrogating.

We were there until 24 April 2003, when we were sent to the top security prison, Kilo 8 in Camagüey, where the conditions were very harsh. I was in a cell in which, where the bed ends, the little bathroom begin. A cell so narrow that the water store is in this small toilet. There was no shower, just a water tube over the toilet, toilet in inverted commas, what we call a Turkish toilet. That is where you had your breakfast, lunch and dinner and where you received medical attention. From Monday to Friday, when it was not raining, we were allowed into a courtyard where, if I stretched my arms out, I could touch the walls on either side. It was like a cell, but instead of a roof it had bars. If it was noon, you had the sun overhead. At other times, there was glare from the sun. Then the situation changed. We spent three months without electricity. Then we were three months with the light on all the time.

This was all in Camagüey?

Yes, I am still referring to Camagüey’s Kilo 8 prison. It is 533 km from Havana, where my family lived. During the last month, we were able to turn the light off and on. That was a big advantage. While there, I wrote a book of poems called “Man without a face” that reflected all the abuses taking place there. Not just the abuses to which I was being subjected because of my ideals, for defending freedom of expression, but also what the ordinary offenders were undergoing. I was punished for writing the book. They sent me to a special wing holding Cuba’s most dangerous inmates, ones that no other prison accepted, to the point that there were no people in Camagüey province in the prison. They were all from other provinces.

One told me that three of them were there to harass me, to steal things from me and to be verbally abusive. Not physical mistreatment, but verbal aggression, insults and so on. One of them admitted that he had been sent by State Security, that he would be rewarded for the role he was playing. To end this punishment, I was forced to go on hunger strike. I told the authorities that I would call off my hunger strike if they recognised that they were punishing me for writing a book or if they gave me the same treatment as my colleagues, the treatment that I had been receiving before, which was bad but not as bad as this.

Later, when I already had gall-bladder and liver problems, I was sent to Agüica prison, in Matanzas province. I was in poor health all the time I was there. They took me to the national prison hospital several times and I was operated on three times there. From there, I was transferred to Havana’s Combinado del Este prison on 7 December 2004. At first, I was in Building No. 2. Then I was admitted to the hospital again. From there we were sent back to prison without a medical discharge because we had staged a protest. In the final stage, the last two or three years. I had a cell to myself, thanks to the protests and hunger strikes and the international campaign by my wife Alida.

As a result, I managed to obtain conditions that were better than those available to ordinary offenders – the possibility of having my cell door open from 6 am to 6 pm and of having a light that I could turn on and off. As for the rest, it was the prison discipline that everyone has to accept. Except that I refused to wear the ordinary offender’s prison uniform because I was not an ordinary offender. I wore regular clothes. This led to my sister being harassed when she came from New York to visit me. The Cuban political police pressured her at Havana’s José Martí airport to try to persuade me to wear prison uniform. She was 71 at the time and they put her under so much psychological stress that she fainted.

What can you tell us about the food and the hygiene in the prisons where you were held?

Here again there were phases. For example, when I was in the windowless cell in Camagüey and being punished for going on hunger strike, the floor had a carpet of rodents. It was part of the punishment. My bed was just two steps from my toilet. The ceilings of the cells were incredibly damp. I saw this in all the prisons where I have been, without exception. There was so much humidity that we used plastic bags to channel the water leaking from the pipes so that it did not drip on us while we were sleeping or eating. Using Cuban ingenuity, the inmates made channels for the water by tying plastic bags. The walls were permanently damp in my last two cells. Water dripped from the walls and the leaks.

And how did all this affect your health?

Well, I am allergic to humidity. I had to be treated with antihistamines all the time. I suffer from migraines. I was always on analgesics to control those. I was 53 when I entered prison and 60 when I left and, logically, all that humidity made my osteoarthritis worse.

More at the link.
(H/T Marc Masferrer)

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Communiqué of the #OZT: I accuse the Cuban government Campaign

The #OZT: I accuse the Cuban government Campaign denounces and condemns the arrest in La Habana of members of the opposition who were on their way to deliver our campaign’s Declaration for the Freedom of Cuban Political Prisoners, and the more of 52,000 signatures supporting it.

Katia Sonia Martín Véliz, coordinator for the organization Cuba Independiente y Democrática [Independent and Democratic Cuba], and her husband, the former political prisoner Ricardo Santiago Salabarría, were arrested at their house in the morning of 23 July. At the moment of their arrest, they were getting ready to go out, and deliver the Declaration and the signatures at the National Assembly of the People’s Power [Cuban “parliament”] in La Habana.

A political police agent, who introduced himself as Pavel, showed them an order of “domiciliary confinement”, signed by a prosecutor from Villa Marista [Security of State Headquarters] and warned against leaving their home. When the couple stated that it was their right to freely enter and leave their house, the police agent continued to threaten them in a very rude manner. He finally told Katia: “You will not be able to move [from the house]! We have people everywhere! If we have to beat you, we will beat you! We can throw you in jail, and if we need to kill you, we will kill you!”

Independent journalist Lisbán Hernández Sánchez from La Giraldilla Press Center, and other members of CID Aimé Cabrales Aguilar, Sergio García Argentel, Eduardo Pérez Flores, Lázaro José de la Noval Usín, Francisco Sa Fuster and Adbel Rodríguez Antiaga (provincial chairman of the organization) were all arrested around the National Assembly headquarters building.

Among the dissidents that were supposed to participate in the delivery of the signatures was Elizardo Sánchez Santacruz, from the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, who was the first one to report the arrests.

This delivery is part of a broader activity planned by our campaign to mark the five-month anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata. It also occurred in several Cuban diplomatic representations around the world.

Cuban diplomatic personnel has refused to receive the signatures, and have instead closed their doors during working hours, thrown punches at some of those who went to deliver the signatures, called the police to block access to the buildings, etc. We have approached their locales in a civilized and respectful way, even notifying them in advance of our visits.

The situation has repeated itself in Madrid, Barcelona, New York and Montreal.

In Miami, the campaign delivered the Declarations and its supporting signatures at Consulate of Spain that did not object to receiving them. These documents were also accompanied by a letter to the President of the Spanish Government, asking him that his government relays them to Raúl Castro, and that they are attached to the “Cuba and the European Union’s Official Position” dossier.
Hasta el momento, la anunciada excarcelación de los presos políticos cubanos ha sido solo uno más de los actos rituales de destierro de opositores y críticos que ha practicado el gobierno de Fidel y Raúl Castro durante décadas para obtener algún crédito internacional.

Our campaign reiterates that there cannot be advances in matters of human rights in Cuba without the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, and without official protection to the freedoms of expression, press, gathering and all other fundamental rights. To ignore the opposition, to banish it from Cuba or to repress it, is not the best way to achieve those changes.

The delivery of the signatures from our campaign at Cuban diplomatic headquarters around the world and to international organizations will continue next week.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Between five and ten activists from different Cuban opposition, organizations were arrested in La Habana when they were trying to deliver more than 52,000 signatures from all over the world in support of this Campaign’s demand for the release of all Cuban political prisoners, and the respect of human rights in Cuba.

Elizardo Sánchez Santa-Cruz, spokesperson for the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, informed that the arrests occurred around 10:00 am, when the activists were to deliver the signatures to the Cuban National Assembly. Their location and condition are still unknown. The political police prevented other activists from leaving their homes.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Raw unedited footage. Jorge Salcedo, #OZT: I accuse the Cuban government Campaign coordinator talks to Carmen María Rodríguez [in Spanish] for Radio Martí

UPDATE: The representatives of the Cuban regime hid away and refused to receive our Declaration and the more than 52,000 signatures from around the world supporting the freedom of all Cuban political prisoners, and respect for human rights in the island.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

A group of persons representing #OZT: I accuse the Cuban government Campaign, as well as the Spanish political party Ciudadanos/Ciutadans, an a other supporters, converged and demonstrated peacefully in front of the Cuban consulate in Barcelona. four of them marched to the door of the consulate and rung the bell to deliver our Declaration and themore of 52,000 signatures in support. A Cuban consular functionary opened the door, threw a punch at one of the peaceful demonstrators, and slammed the door. Later a small group of Castroite sympathizers verbally and physically assaulted the demonstrators. The Mossos d'Escuadra, Catalonian police, intervened to prevent that the agents of the Stalinist regime would cause any further harm to those peacefully demonstrating for freedom, the release of ll Cuban political prisoners, respect of human rights and democracy for Cuba.

See videos [in Spanish and Catalonian] below.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Our campaign will attempt to deliver our Declaration, and the accompanying more than 52,000 signatures supporting freedom for all Cuban political prisoners and respect for human rights in Cuba; at the Cuban mission to the UN in New York City, the Archdiocese of Miami and the Spanish consulate in that city, and the Cuban consulates in Barcelona and Montréal today.

Yesterday, we attempted delivery at the Cuban embassy in Madrid, and were denied access to it.

We will update regularly with reports, photos and video as they become available. You can follow the action in New York City live (in Spanish) on Actualidad 1020.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Agence France Press reports:

The last five of a group of recently freed Cuban dissidents left for Madrid on Thursday, the Spanish Embassy said.

Jorge Luis Gonzalez, 39, Blas Giraldo Reyes, 54, Jose Ubaldo Izquierdo, 44, Jesus Mustafa, 66, and 47-year-old Antonio Diaz boarded a commercial flight that will arrive in the Spanish capital on Friday, an embassy spokesman said.

Izquierdo, however, may take another flight out of Madrid for Chile, after Santiago on Monday said it would welcome him and his family.

The five dissidents completed the list of 20 who have accepted residency in Spain after Spain helped broker a deal reached on July 7 between the Cuban government and the Roman Catholic Church to gradually free 52 detainees.

The remaining prisoners will remain in Cuba or leave for the United States.

The US Interest Section in Havana on Tuesday offered refugee status to all freed dissidents and their families who wish to travel to the United States and began interviewing prospective immigrants.

The deal, the largest release of Cuban prisoners since 1998 when 300 dissidents were spared jail time following a visit by then pope John Paul II, came after dissident hunger striker Guillermo Farinas nearly starved to death.

Havana wants to avoid a repeat of the death in detention of political prisoner Orlando Zapata on February 23, as it seeks closer international ties to improve its slumping economy.

And Cuba's parliamentary chief Ricardo Alarcon has said the country was ready to release more detainees.

Elizardo Sanchez, the president of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation that is tolerated by the government, said a further 50 or 60 political prisoners could be freed.

Cuban dissidents said there were approximately 170 political prisoners in Cuban jails before the announced release.
Yesterday, the BBC had also reported on the arrival in Madrid of three other released political prisoners. Click here to read that report.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Our campaign has learned from Cuban opposition activist Martha Beatriz Roque by email that the political prisoners Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodríguez, José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández, Jorge Luis González Tanquero, Jesús Mustafá Felipe and Antonio Ramón Diaz Sánchez have been ordered to “be ready” for this afternoon. This may point to their imminent release and subsequent deportation to Spain.

The five political prisoners have been kept in the infirmary of the Combinado del Este prison in La Habana for several days. Two other political prisoners, who are, as the previous part of the original Group of 75 arrested during Cuba’s Black Spring, Regis Iglesias Ramírez, Eduardo Díaz Fleitas and Efrén Fernández Fernández, are also at the prison’s infirmary.

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello was also part of the Group of 75, but was released under an “extra-penal license” due to her health conditions.

We will continue to monitor and inform on the situation of these five political prisoners. We also continue to remind the regime of the public statement made by one of their top ranking members: that they are willing to release all political prisoners and that the latter can remain in Cuba if so they wish, that there will not be any more forced exile of prisoners.

We are watching you, and we are waiting.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Directly from Madrid via telephone to our campaign:

The platform Cuba Democracia Ya! attempted to deliver the more than 52,000 signatures in support of our Declaration at the Cuban embassy in Madrid, Spain. However, the representatives of the Stalinist regime, in front of a large group of Spanish and foreign media, have refused to open the doors and allow them access.

UPDATED: in the photo below (from left to right)Cuba Democracia Ya! activists Yuniel Jacomino and Rigoberto Carceller, Catalonian politician Albert Rivera, and Mijaíl and Belkys Bárzaga, Cuban ex-political prisoners exiled by the regime to Spain, in front of the shuttered Cuban embassy in Madrid.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

As we announced a few days ago, our campaign has begun the delivery of the more than 52,000 signatures in support of our Declaration for the Freedom of All Cuban Political Prisoners, and the respect of human rights in the island.

As we post this update, a group of activists belonging to the Cuba Democracia Ya! Group in Madrid, Spain, is at the Cuban Embassy in Spain trying to deliver the documents to the regime's representatives.  Please follow up with us and our Spanish language blog for updates, including video. 

We are still accepting signatures since this is not the end of the campaign. This effort will not end until all Cuban political prisoners are unconditionally free.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Former Cuban political prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya will fly to Miami on Wednesday, July 28, to receive needed medical care, according to Radio Martí, citing an AFP report.
Sigler was released from prison June 12 on a medical parole after more than seven years in the Castro gulag. But not until he threatened on Monday to start a hunger strike, did the Cuban government provide him with a visa to leave the country.
The United States government had earlier agreed to allow Sigler to enter the country on a humanitarian visa.
A former heavyweight boxer, Sigler, 46, was left a paraplegic by his time in prison.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Reports Juan O. Tamayo on the Lexington [Kentucky] Herald Leader:

By JUAN O. TAMAYO - McClatchy Newspapers

MIAMI -- Statements by two top Cuban and Spanish officials Wednesday that Havana will free all its political prisoners - not just the 52 already promised their freedom - have raised the question of just how many political prisoners the island has.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told the lower chamber of the Spanish parliament that the Raul Castro government has taken "the decision to free all, all political prisoners.

The AFP news agency quoted the president of Cuba's National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, as saying in an interview that "the desire of the Cuban government is to free all ... who do not bear responsibility for the deaths of other persons."

The additional releases have not been confirmed by the Cuban Catholic Church, which announced July 7 that Havana had promised to free 52 prisoners as a result of talks with Castro and Moratinos. Orlando Marquez, spokesman for the Havana archbishop's office, could not immediately be reached for comment on the Moratinos and Alarcon statements.

Havana's leading human rights activist, Elizardo Sanchez, said the "stature of these two politicians is so high that one could believe that it's true."

But he cautioned: "This presumes that the Cuban government has a minimum of political will to do this."

Just as uncertain is how many prisoners would benefit from the broader release, because exactly who is a political prisoner in Cuba varies greatly depending on who's counting.

London-based Amnesty International, which has strict guidelines for designating "prisoners of conscience," reported earlier this year that Cuba held 53, accused of crimes such as "enemy propaganda" or collaborating with foreign governments and groups.

But Human Rights Watch, based in New York City, says many dissidents are jailed on charges that are not technically political. Dissident Darsi Ferrer, for example, was arrested last year for possession of two sacks of cement allegedly bought on the black market.

Sanchez's Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission counted 167 political prisoners just days before the church announced the planned release of the 52 - the last still jailed among 75 dissidents rounded up in 2003 and sentenced to long prison terms.

Of those on Sanchez's list, 10 are free because of ill health, but he still counts them because they could be sent back to prison any time. Another four were released in recent weeks after completing their sentences, leaving a total of 101.

Ninety-nine of those were not accused of violent crimes, Sanchez said in a telephone interview from Havana, and therefore should be released under Alarcon's criterion.

More at the link.

To read our campaign's response to Alarcón's statements, click here.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

MADRID Unexpectedly, the guard, in a voice less harsh than usual, said to him: "Paneque, leave your cell to take a phone call."

José Luis García Paneque, 44, is a doctor, a plastic surgeon specializing in burn injuries, a family man with several young children, talkative and intelligent like a good imp. In March 2003, during the so-called "Black Spring in Havana," he was arrested and summarily sentenced to 15 years in prison.

His crime? Like the rest of the 75 detainees during that repressive orgy, he wrote chronicles about the Cuban reality in foreign newspapers (because he wasn't allowed to do so in the government-fettered press), lent forbidden books, wanted and asked for democracy for his country and was a devout Catholic. In other words, the living portrait of a dangerous enemy of the people and an agent of Yankee imperialism.

The call came from Cardinal Jaime Ortega. Amiably, the prelate asked him if he wished to be released and sent to Spain. There were no humiliating conditions. Neither would Paneque have accepted them nor would Ortega have proposed them. Paneque answered Yes. Somehow, the democratic opposition had won the game, and the dictatorship was beginning to get rid of the prisoners of conscience.

Besides, Paneque trusted his church. The priests and bishops had not abandoned him when he was arrested. They helped his family and looked after him when they discovered that he was dying of the infectious diseases contracted in the filthy cells.

His immunological system no longer fought off the intestinal parasites, the medicines had lost their effectiveness and he gradually became malnourished. He looked like one of the prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps. Besides him, two other captives, Normando Hernández González and Ariel Sigler Amaya, suffered variations of the same chronic and incurable illness.

Of the three, Sigler, who was the strongest when they walked into prison, an almost-200-pound athlete, is in the worst condition: invalid, thin as a rail, in a wheelchair and incapable of even holding his head up without a neck brace. He's still in Havana because the Cuban government cruelly denies him an exit permit, even though he has a U.S. visa.

I went over to embrace the prisoners, who had just arrived in Spain. It was a very emotional moment. It is impossible to hold back the tears. One hides them, because of that awful curse that "men don't cry.'' But the eyes usually do their own thing.

Normando's mother, Blanca González, who had just arrived from Miami, hugged her son with the intense love of someone who had given birth to him for the second time. Andrés Ely Blanco, the great popular Venezuelan poet, perceptively stated it many decades ago: There is no happier day than the day the prisoners are freed.

I had seen Blanca shout at a hundred demonstrations, invoking Normando's name and waving his picture. To see him alive again was her wish when she went to bed and when she rose every single day. His cause encouraged her to continue breathing amid so much pain and so many sad reports that flew from the prison cells, like ravens, to warn her that Normando would die soon if he was not rescued.

The prisoners were housed in a modest hostel in Vallecas, an industrial neighborhood near Madrid. That's understandable. Spain, which has extended a generous hand amid a crisis, does not have funds to dispense charity profusely. The prisoners have arrived with their relatives, and the final bill could be high for any of the underbudgeted state institutions. Maybe there was also the objective of isolating them so the media hoopla could be kept down. The Zapatero government does not want this operation to become a broadside against the dictatorship.

But it won't accomplish that. These men -- for now, Paneque and Normando, Léster González, Antonio Villarreal, Pablo Pacheco, Julio César Gálvez, Omar Ruiz, Ricardo González -- are willing to die to defend their right to say what they think.

If they weren't silenced by the blows, the hunger and the caging in terrible prisons, who can even think of muzzling them now that they've gained freedom? They came to exercise their throats and will not keep quiet.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

By Michael C. Moynihan

The sinister dictators of Cuba, Fidel and Raul Castro, are getting a fair amount of good press for releasing a handful of political prisoners that committed no crime. A few things to keep in mind, for those celebrating the great “humanitarian gesture”—the one designed to head off Western criticism following the death of hunger strikers. The prisoners, all jailed for "political offenses," were allowed to leave prison provided they left Cuba—the cause for which they have risked their lives—and relocated to Spain. 11 prisoners were released to Spanish authorities, though many others refused to surrender their citizenship in exchange for their freedom. At a press conference in Spain, a small group of recently arrived dissidents urged the European Union to keep pressure on Cuba, noting that “their release was not a gesture of good faith but ‘a desperate action’ by the Cuban government.

So how were conditions in Cuban prisons? According to this [expletive] at Harvard Law School's Criminal Justice Institute, the Cuban prison system is "far more humane than Western propaganda would have the uninformed public believe," nor do those lucky enough to be incarcerated "have to pay for their education, medical, dental or hospital care, or any other activities they experience." Imagine not having to fork over your $18 monthly salary for "activities" like beatings and the bi-weekly rotten food buffet!

In an interview with Bloomberg, recently-released prisoner Normando Hernandez Gonzalez explained what was wrong with all of this "Western propaganda" about prison conditions:

The first month I spent in jail, I only ate eight times because the food they gave us was subhuman and so rotten that if you offered it to a dog, he’d turn away. For refusing to wear prison overalls, I was sent to a dark cell for 101 days without seeing the light of day. There wasn’t a single inch of my skin that wasn’t covered in septic mosquito bites. I was forced to sleep on the concrete floor with rats and cockroaches crawling over me.”
Incidentally, Gonzalez was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his association with the Camagüey College of Independent Journalists.

Miami Herald columnist Andreas Oppenheimer pooh-poohs talk of a “new era” from Cubans held hostage by the Castro brothers:

…[M]ost important, the Cuban regime is not even talking about modifying articles 72 and 73 of its criminal code, an Orwellian legislation that allows it to put people behind bars before they committed a crime on the mere suspicion that they may commit one in the future.

Nor is the regime ready to consider changing its law 88, which allows it to imprison people for writing anything that can be interpreted as critical of the government, or its various laws banning freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to travel within the country or abroad, independent unions, and political parties.

When I asked José Miguel Vivanco, head of the Human Rights Watch advocacy group's Americas department, whether Cuba's latest announcement amounts to a "new phase" in Cuba, he said: "We are obviously very happy for the prisoners and their families, but I am not going to congratulate a government for imprisoning people that shouldn't have been imprisoned in the first place."

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Our campaign, #OZT I Accuse the Cuban government welcomes with satisfaction the recent statements by Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba’s National Assembly of the People’s Power [“parliament”], reaffirming the Cuban government’s intention to release all political prisoners beyond the 52 announced on 7 July. It is our understanding that this is the first time that a high ranking member of the Cuban government makes statements of this nature publicly.

We are pleased to hear that those who do not wish to leave Cuba will have the opportunity to return to their homes. The current “releases to Spain”, regardless of how they are officially called, are nothing but banishment. A release without forced exile of all political prisoners, more than its mere announcement, could be considered as a genuine step forward in the improvement of the human rights situation in Cuba.

We want to make absolutely clear that our demand for the freedom of the political prisoners does not include those who are responsible for deaths or other acts of terrorism. We neither support nor promote such acts, but it is convenient to remember that they are exactly the same as those used by the Cuban revolutionaries leading up to the triumph of the revolution in 1959 and later used to export and spread the influence of their revolution within and outside of Cuba. It would be productive to consider amnesty for them within a wider reconciliation process. However, our main demand involves those imprisoned for exercising their legitimate and inalienable human rights, charged with trumped up charges and sentenced in manipulated trials designed precisely to hide the real reason for which they were being repressed.

We urge the Cuban government to comply with its promise as soon as possible. Nothing, except its own will, prevents the regime from freeing these unjustly incarcerated persons.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Radio Marti informs [in Spanish] that after yesterday's assault, and subsequent phone call from Cuban Cardinal and La Habana's Archbishop Jaime Ortega, the regime has finally given Ariel Sigler Amaya the Permit needed to leave Cuba for the US so that he can receive medical attention. Ariel's wife, Noelia, explained to Radio Martí that Ortega had called to tell her that he had personally interceded with the authorities for Ariel, and that they would be contacting her soon to confirm. They called her today. She stated that despite the outcome, she was not happy given "the high price that must be paid in Cuba to be able to leave the country."

More with audio [in Spanish] at the link.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

AP informs from La Habana:

HAVANA — U.S. diplomats in Havana have told relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents that it will be more difficult for them to apply for asylum in America if they first accept a Church-brokered deal to trade jail for exile in Spain.

The meetings, confirmed by the family members of six imprisoned dissidents, come at a delicate time and could complicate releases of some 52 activists, journalists and opposition leaders arrested in a 2003 crackdown.

Under a deal brokered by Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega earlier this month, Cuba has already freed 11 political prisoners and flown them to Madrid. Nine others have accepted the offer and are expected to arrive in coming days.

The rest of the jailed dissidents have either refused to go, or have not yet been contacted by Roman Catholic church officials. The church has said exile in Spain is an "option," but has not specified what will happen to those who refuse to leave the country.

The family members of several dissidents who have not yet accepted Spanish asylum met Tuesday with officials at the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington maintains in Havana instead of an embassy. Other family members are expected to visit the Interests Section in coming days.

After the meetings, the relatives told The Associated Press they were informed they would not be allowed to apply for asylum in the United States from Spain, but could petition for residence like any other would-be immigrant.

"We came here thinking they would give us some option (of applying for asylum from Spain), but they won't," said Sofia Garcia, whose husband, Jose Miguel Martinez, has been serving a 13-year sentence for treason.

She said she was told that if the family goes to Spain they would have to apply for residence in the United States through regular channels, a process that can take years and usually requires a sponsor.

Teresita Galvan, whose brother Miguel Galvan is serving a 26-year term, said she left the meeting under the impression that by accepting the deal to go to Spain, her family would give up its right to later claim asylum in the United States.

It means a stark choice for some of the dissidents, many of whom have family in the United States: Stay in Cuba and try to win U.S. asylum, or leave immediately for Spain and take themselves out of consideration.

Gloria Berbena, a spokeswoman at the Interests Section, confirmed that individual meetings were taking place to answer questions the family members might have about seeking asylum.

Berbena said the Cubans were being informed that any asylum applications from Spain would be handled differently from those made inside Cuba.

"The process is different depending on where you apply from," she said.

Cubans applying for asylum in the United States can claim that they face persecution or danger if they remain in the country, something that would be harder to do if they have already fled to a friendly country.

When asked if American diplomats were advising the prisoners not to accept Spanish asylum, Berbena said only: "We believe that Cubans should be free to make their own decisions."

More at the link.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Cuban political prisoner Efrén Fernández Fernández started a hunger strike late last week to protest his transfer from a medical facility back to prison, according to Oswaldo Payá, head of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL)[in Spanish].

Fernández, an MCL activist imprisoned since the "black spring" crackdown of 2003, had been receiving treatment for skin and intestinal problems no doubt brought on by and/or aggravated by his more than seven years in the Castro gulag. He is demanding that he be given the care he needs.

Fernández is serving a 12-year sentence, but the Catholic Church in Cuba has said he is one of 52 prisoners set to be released under a deal negotiated by the church, the Spanish government and the Castro dictatorship.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Today, we have surpassed the 52, 000 signatures in support of our Declaration for the Freedom of All Cuban Political Prisoners. Their official delivery will begin this Thursday at Cuban embassies and consulates around the world.

Among the most recent signatories are Uruguayan journalist Julia Rodríguez Larreta, Cuban plastic artists Omar Santana and Arturo Cuenca, Italian filmmaker Pierantonio Maria Micciarelli, Cuban actors Orlando Casín and Roberto San Martín and academician Beatriz Bernal Gómez, Venezuelan writers Freddy Siso Rivas and Joaquín Marta Sosa, Mexican journalist and author Martha Robles, French painter Rémi Champseit, Cuban-American author Pablo Medina, Colombian poet Sergio Esteban Vélez, Cuban writer Juan Abreu, writers and politicians Percival Puggina from Brazil and Miguel Angel Llauger from Spain. To all of them, and to all of you who have signed, thank you.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Radio Netherlands reports:

Cuba is prepared to set free more political prisoners than the 52 whose release was announced earlier this month. Those who are freed may, if they wish, remain in the country. The announcement was made by Ricardo Alarcón, the President of the Cuban parliament, on Tuesday.

The Cuban regime decided, earlier in July and after mediation by the Roman Catholic Church, to release 52 opponents of the country’s government. The 52 belonged to a group of 75 individuals sentenced in 2003 to terms in jail of between six and 28 years. According to figures from Cuban dissidents, there would still be 115 political prisoners in Cuba following the release of the 52.

At least 11 dissidents have already emigrated to Spain. Nine others will depart later this week. Those who agreed to go into exile in Spain were the first to be set free. Church officials have stressed that emigrating from Cuba was an offer, not a condition for the release

It is part of the biggest release of political prisoners since 1998, when 300 dissidents were spared jail time following a visit by then-pope John Paul II.

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners

Image designed by Rolando Pulido

The #OZT: I Accuse the Cuban government Campaign will deliver the first group of collected signatures as well as Cuba’s embassies and consulates around the world on 22 July, at five months of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

The Declaration has been signed so far by 51, 950 persons from 109 countries. It demands “the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuban jails.” By delivering these signatures we reiterate our call on Raul Castro’s government to extend the 52 releases announced on 7 July to all political prisoners in the island and to stop sending them on forced exiles.

We ask all of those who would like to participate to wear a white piece of clothing on their upper bodies [a “top”] and to bring images of Orlando Zapata Tamayo or signs related to the campaign’s objectives.

The dates and the ways on which the signatures will be delivered, will vary by city. Please contact the coordinators for further details. We will update the contact as soon as we confirm that other cities are joining us.  All times listed below are local.

New York
Place: Cuban Mission to the UN - 315 Lexington Ave., New York, New York, 10016
Date: Friday, 23 July
Time: 10:30 AM (the march begns at this time at Times Square, walkin toward the Mission)
Coordinator: Alexis Romay

Lugar: Embassy of Cuba in Spain - Paseo de la Habana, No. 194, 28036, Madrid
Date: Thursday, 22 July
Time: 5:30 PM
Coordinator: Yuniel Jacomino

Place: Cuban Consulate in Barcelona - Paseo de Gracia No. 34, 08007, Barcelona
Date: Friday, 23 July
Time: 12 Noon
Contact: Joan Antoni Guerrero

Place: Spanish Consulate in Miami - 2655 Le Jeune Road, Suite 203, Coral Gables, Florida 33134
Date: Friday, 23 July
Time: 10:00 AM
Contact: Alina Brouwer

Place: Archdiocese of Miami - 9401 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami Shores, FL 33138

Date: Friday, 23 July
Time: 11:30 AM
Contact: Verónica Cervera

Place: Cuban Consulate in Sevilla. 
Avenida Blas Infante, 6 (Edificio Urbis)
Date: Tuesday, 27 July
Time: 12 Noon
Coordinator: Ana Fuentes

Place: Cuban Consulate in Montreal - 4542 Decarie Boulevard, Montreal H4A 3P2 Mont real, Québec
Date: Friday, 23 July
Time: 10:30 AM
Coordinator: Isbel Alba

Place: Embassy of Cuba in Uruguay - Echevarriarza 3471, Montevideo, Uruguay
Date: TBA
Time: TBA
Coordinator: Fernando Pittier

Santiago de Chile
Place: Embassy of Cuba in Chile - Av. Los Leones 1346- Providencia, Santiago de Chile

Date: TBA
Time: TBA
Mijail Bonito Lovio

for the freedom of all cuban political prisoners