Of Human Rights

Por Los Derechos Humanos En Cuba. Project dedicated to the freedom of all Cuban political prisoners.

Regime Beats Up Women

The Ladies in White are a group of mothers,sisters, and wives of Cuban political prisoners who received Sakharov Prize for Human Rights granted by the European Parliament in 2005. They walk to mass every Sunday dressed in white and holding a flower. They are beaten, insulted, and imprisoned, but they continue to persevere. The Ladies in White were finally allowed to travel abroad in April 2013 to receive the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament.

The Ladies in White

Above: The Ladies in White on one of their Sunday walks to Church. They continue to be repressed by the Cuban police.

“Latest Cuban Police Tactic: Freeing Detained Dissidents in Remote Areas Far From Their Homes” by Juan O. Tamayo.(Miami Herald).  The original article can be read here.

Cuban dissident Ana Celia Rodríguez Torres says police arrested her, punched her and kept her all day in a scorching hot bus, then freed her the next morning in a remote farming area 20 miles from her home.

Another dissident in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba reports similar treatment. Yasnay Ferrer Santos says she was yanked violently out of a car, held in a patrol car all day and all night and then freed on a rural road 10 miles from her home.

Dissidents and human rights leaders say those incidents are part of a recent shift in tactics that Cuban security forces are using against domestic opponents. Increasingly, they are resorting to physical force and dumping dissidents in isolated areas to harass and intimidate them, say human rights leaders.

“It’s been happening dozens of time, too many times to count, hundreds just with UNPACU” members, said José Daniel Ferrer, head of the opposition Patriotic Union of Cuba. Its Spanish-language acronym is UNPACU.

Ferrer and Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation in Havana, say the shift began in May.

On May 1, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Switzerland issued a report criticizing the Cuban government’s record — specifically expressing concern over a spike in the number of short-term detentions of dissidents.

Such detentions, usually in police stations, soared from 2,074 in 2010 to 6,602 last year. The rise was perceived as the result of an effort by Cuba’s leader, Raúl Castro, to move away from the notoriously long prison sentences common under his brother Fidel Castro while keeping up the pressure on dissidents.

The short-term detentions have now slowed significantly, with 2,376 reported in the first seven months of this year, compared to 4,051 in the same period last year, according to the latest report by Sánchez’s group.

But now the state security apparatus in the Western Hemisphere’s only communist-ruled nation is increasingly resorting to other tactics, Ferrer and Sánchez agreed. In addition to physical violence and the drop-offs in remote areas, they reported vandalism of dissidents’ homes and “acts of repudiation” by government-organized mobs.

Three UNPACU members have been mugged at night by young men in civilian clothes, Ferrer said. In one case the attackers were known employees of government sports centers apparently acting on orders of state security agents, he added.

State Security officers watching some of the arrests have been heard ordering their men to punch dissidents who lead the protests or shout the loudest, Ferrer added, and dissidents are reporting more injuries during their arrests.

Sanchez concurred and said his commission also has been receiving reports of attacks on the homes of dissidents with rocks, paint and feces and pro-government demonstrations in front of the homes.

But the most significant change reported has been the drop in the temporary detentions in police stations and an increase in detentions in police cars and buses, followed by releases in remote areas with no public transportation and few passing vehicles, Ferrer and Sanchez said.

“We’re seeing it too. Apparently, taking them to police lockups has not been effective for them,” said Berta Soler, leader of the dissident Ladies in White.

Rodriguez, a 43-year-old unemployed economist, said she was detained and later freed in remote places four times in recent months to keep her from attending opposition gatherings, most of them in the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint, in the village of El Cobre.

Last month she was held in police buses and patrol cars, given no water and no food despite the stifling heat and was released in a remote cattle ranch’s road, she said. In June she was freed on a beach road 21 miles from her home, she said.

Each detention was accompanied by punches and rough physical treatment, she told El Nuevo Herald by phone during a break in an UNPACU meeting in Ferrer’s home in Palmarito de Cauto. When Ferrer asked his group how many of them had been detained and dropped off in remote spots, six raised their hands, he said.

Yasnay Ferrer, no relation to the UNPACU leader, said she was shoved around, thrown to the ground or punched almost all of the five times that she was detained in the recent months.

“What we’re seeing is a true metamorphosis in the tactics for political repression,” said Sanchez by phone from Havana. “Because of all the criticism, the number of (short-term) detentions has fallen visibly while these other intimidation procedures are used more.”

Sanchez also noted that Amnesty International this month added five names to its list of Cuban “prisoners of conscience,” which had been empty since Castro released 116 political prisoners in 2010-2011 following talks with the Catholic Church hierarchy.

Rafael Matos and Emilio Planas were arrested in the eastern city of Guantánamo in September after anti-government signs appeared around the city. They were convicted of “pre criminal dangerousness,” the London-based human rights group said.

Alexeis Vargas Martín and his 17-year-old twin brothers, Diango and Vianco — all members of UNPACU — were accused of “using violence or intimidation against a state official,” according to Amnesty.

Ladies in White solo

“Dissidents Say They are Returning to Cuba Reenergized” by Juan O. Tamayo. (Miami Herald) The original article can be read here.

When Berta Soler, leader of Cuba’s dissident Ladies in White, returned to the island last month after her first-ever trip abroad, she felt ready to resume the grinding struggle against the communist government.

Soler had received a hero’s welcome in the United States and Europe. Large audiences had applauded her denunciations of the Castro system. And her group had secured new supporters, contacts and more than $65,000 in prizes and donations.

Guillermo Fariñas, also on his first trip abroad as a dissident, said he has gained “spiritual, material and ideological oxygen,” as well as a new and better understanding of Cuban exiles and even a good book on transitions to democracy.

After Cuba eased its travel regulations in January, more and more dissidents have been not only traveling abroad but returning to the island well-rested, with more energy and ambitions, more supporters and contacts abroad and access to more cash.

Before the changes, most dissidents could not leave the island except on one-way tickets. The government stamped “Final Exit” on their migration documents and did not allow them to return except for rare humanitarian visits.

Regis Iglesias, one of 116 political prisoners freed and virtually forced into exile in Spain in 2010 and 2011, said he applied to return one year ago to resume his work for the opposition Christian Liberation Movement. Havana has not answered his request.

Compare Iglesias to Soler, who returned to Havana on May 27 after a 78-day international trip and immediately announced bold plans to expand the activities and membership of the Ladies in White, which now stands at about 230.

“I feel stronger. I am stronger,” Soler said, because during the trip, she could “talk to other people, I could denounce the government. We went out looking for moral, spiritual and material support and we go it … This gives me tremendous strength.”

Cuban exiles promised to arrange scholarships for children of dissidents who are often denied the schools of their choice, added the 50-year old lab technician. And several non-governmental organizations around the world offered their support in various ways.

Soler said that during her trip, the Ladies in White also gained access to their roughly $22,000 share of the Sakharov prize won in 2005, their $20,000 Vaclav Havel Prize won this year and $24,000 collected by Cubans in Miami, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Cuba did not allow the women to leave the island in 2005 to collect the Sakharov prize.

She declined further comment on the money, but clearly it will be a tremendous help to the dissidents, who are often fired from their government jobs, in a country where the average state employee officially earns about $17 a month.

Soler noted also that she and fellow Ladies in White Belkis Cantillo and Laura Labrada felt “rejuvenated and re-energized” when they received standing ovations during their appearances before several exile audiences in Miami last month.

Havana blogger Yoani Sánchez, meanwhile, Tweeted earlier this month that her ambitions for Cuba’s future expanded so much during her own three-month trip abroad that her return home had been “like trying to return to a place where I once fit, and now feels tight.”

“I am back. With an energy that the daily hassles will try to diminish, but which will still be enough to launch new projects,” Sánchez, who has said she wants to launch a newspaper, wrote separately on her Generación Y blog.

She has not said whether her trip helped to gather financial or other support for what would be the only newspaper not state-controlled. But her Twitter account gained more than 100,000 followers during the trip, bringing her total to more than 500,000.

For his part, Fariñas said he has felt “much more enthusiasm and ambition” during his current trip abroad and expects to be in Brussels soon to pick up the Sakharov Prize and roughly $67,000 in prize money that the European Parliament awarded him in 2010.

He was in Poland last week, attending a seminar on nonviolent resistance along with a half-dozen other Cubans in Gdansk, birthplace of the Solidarity labor movement that pushed the Communist government out of power in 1989. Farinas said he will also be taking back to Cuba a Spanish-language copy of a book on the kinds of changes that dissidents are seeking in Cuba, titled From Dictatorship to Democracy and published in 2002 by dissidents in Burma.

Cuba’s new migration system not only allows most dissidents to leave and return but permits all Cubans to stay abroad up to 24 months without losing their residency. To return after that period, they must obtain prior permission from Havana.

Relatives of the late dissident Oswaldo Payá, who arrived in Miami last week to escape government harassments, may make return visits to Cuba if needed to handle the affairs of Payá’s Christian Liberation Movement, supporters have said.

“Now someone can be dissident and opposition activist on this side of the Florida Straits, transferring the office from Havana to Miami and establishing a command post in any suburb,” columnist Alejandro Armengol wrote on the website Cubaencuentro.

Dissident journalist Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, now in the United States on his first-ever trip outside of Cuba, joked that he might even return to Havana for a weekend and added, “This is the time to fill the gaps in the so-called migration reforms.”

About 20 dissidents have traveled abroad so far, a half-dozen have returned and more are getting ready to travel. A few were denied permission to travel because they were sentenced to lengthy prison terms but were paroled for health reasons.

Soler, Sánchez, Fariñas and Pardo also agreed that their trips abroad brought them closer to Cuban exiles, long portrayed by Castro’s propaganda as “worms,” rabid capitalists and even bloodthirsty vengeance-seekers.

“But you come here and you find, and have a respectful conversation with, [anyone] from a member of the brigade that landed in the Bay of Pigs to someone who wants to make capital investments in Cuba right now,” said Pardo.

The dissidents also said their international exposure should give them added protection from government repression. But that, they acknowledged, is only a hope.

Havana eased the travel restrictions for its own interests, the dissidents argue, and not to give the opposition a break.

The changes might brighten Cuba’s image abroad, they say. More Cubans abroad would mean more remittances sent to relatives on the cash-strapped island. And perhaps some of the dissidents will chose to stay abroad and stop challenging the government.

But if the dissidents’ travels become too troublesome for the government, Pardo added, Havana can always change the rules again to keep the dissidents in or block their return, or even turn up the repression.

“We have been seeing a little ray of hope in our hearts, that we’re ready for something good to happen,” Pardo said. “But the government cannot allow itself to be tolerant. The physical repression could grow worse.”

Soler said the Ladies in White will continue their protests marches after Sunday Mass in Havana — the only public political protest allowed by the government — and will push to expand the marches to other parts of the island.

When she returned to Havana, she said, she brought back several pairs of women’s shoes. They were in many different sizes but always in white, beige or other light colors, so the women can keep marching.’

Cuba’s Ladies in White Leader Meets Pope Francis by the Miami Herald Staff (The Miami Herald) Original article can be read here.

Pope Francis exchanged a brief greeting Wednesday with Cuban dissident Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, in the Vatican at the end of a general audience held in St. Peter’s Square.

Soler is on a worldwide tour to publicize the plight of Cuban dissidents and to ask for moral and spiritual support to end repression in Cuba. The Ladies in White are a group of Cuban women who originally came together to march on behalf of their husbands and relatives rounded up during Cuba’s so-called Black Spring of 2003. After the men were freed, the women — who dress in white — continued to march on behalf of other political prisoners.

Soler handed the pope two letters from the wivesof political prisoners, according to the French news agency AFP. Soler later told the media that the pope had given her a blessing and asked her to continue her fight.

During the visit of Pope Emeritus Benedict, then Pope Benedict XVI, to Cuba last year, the Ladies in White had asked to meet with him but were rebuffed — even though the pope took time for a meeting with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Prior to Benedict’s visit there also was friction between dissident groups, who wanted the church to take a more activist role in addressing their concerns, and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

The Ladies in White met with Ortega last June and asked for his help on two fronts: interceding on their behalf with Cuban leader Raúl Castro in the face of stepped-up repression against the group and to pass on their request for an audience with the pope.

 

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