This new graphic design by digital artist Rolando Pulido says a lot in just one picture after the UN voted – once again – the Cuban dictatorship to form part of the Human Rights Council of this organization which defines itself as a promoter of rights and freedoms for all people. It shows dictator Raul Castro surrounded by the images of just some of his victims – Laura Pollan, Wilman Villar Mendoza, Juan Wilfredo Soto, Oswaldo Paya, Harold Cepero and Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Pictured on the upper left is also an image of Raul Castro preparing an assassination of a young Cuban in the early 60’s.
The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba highlights the situation which a number of political prisoners of the mentioned group are facing, speaks about the repressive methods employed by the State against activists and affirms that activism and opposition out on the streets has only increased in the Eastern region of the country, attracting further solidarity from everyday people.
Protest marches, debates and the handing out of flyers with pro-freedom messages are occurring with much more frequency in different areas of Eastern Cuba. Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, former political prisoner and current executive secretary of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), points out that in the month of May these actions have increased as part of the Boitel and Zapata Live Campaign, where dissidents throughout the country pay tribute to martyrs Pedro Luis Boitel and Orlando Zapata Tamayo, both deceased after lengthy hunger strikes in prison.
On May 20th, Cuba’s Independence Day, two marches were carried out in Santiago de Cuba. One of them was led by 11 activists and finished in the Antonio Maceo Plaza, where police officials beat the demonstrators with helmets, sticks and other objects, all of this while everyday citizens were watching.
A second march was carried out by 16 dissidents who managed to walk down various blocks of the El Sueno neighborhood, shouting pro-freedom messages. The result was police persecution. “State Security and Rapid Response Brigade agents came and began to throw rocks and beat activists“, recounted Ferrer Garcia. The repressors also threw tar and tried to raid the home of Daniel Barriel, secretary of the “Zapata Lives” sector of UNPACU in that neighborhood, where the activists congregated after the march. But the police was not able to achieve their objective, considering that the civic protests of the dissidents only intensified, forcing the aggressors to leave.
“Our activists came out and did not allow the attack. Also, they took up a clever posture. When the regime organized mobs shouted ‘long live the youth’, our dissidents would shout ‘live!’, but when the mobs shouted ‘long live Fidel’, the activists would say ‘down!’. The agents had to leave the house eventually“, explained Jose Daniel, “the police is losing space because they use so many people and use so much gasoline to repress us, but there is not enough gasoline for ambulances and other necessary services. In addition, everyday people are not cooperating with them“.
On the following day, May 21st, another group of UNPACU activists walked to the Palma-Santiago highway and took out a large sign with numerous anti-regime messages, such as “UNPACU in favor of fair salaries” and “democracy and justice“. This captured the attention of various passerby’s who actually would stop their cars to read the messages and show support with the dissidents.
Ferrer Garcia explains that UNPACU has “been following up the Boitel and Zapata Live Campaign as well as on the other commemorative dates like the death of Jose Marti and May 20th” with spontaneous marches and other demonstrations which have lasted more than 30 minutes, shouting slogans in favor of “freedom, democracy, the respect of human rights, the end of hunger, misery, low salaries and so many other ills which affect the population“.
The former political prisoner of conscience denounces that the repression on behalf of the regime has been increasing, but despite this, “the tyranny keeps losing in their confrontation against UNPACU, because even the people who in one way or another serve them are feeling very ashamed of the actions which State Security carries out against us“.
“The people are responding by criticizing the political police. On a daily basis they join the peaceful opposition movement in this area, where UNPACU has been carrying out a labor in favor of the society, working for the community, and this presents a serious problem for the tyranny, and it will just continue to create even more problems“, added Ferrer.
Currently, UNPACU has 40 of its members behind bars because of political motives. This past 21st of May Ferrer Garcia was able to establish communication with one of these prisoners who is being held in the Mar Verde Prision of Santiago.
“The activist told me about the situation which they find themselves in Mar Verde. He told me that Arcelio Noa had already been taken out of the punishment cell, but that he had intentionally hurt himself as a form of protest against the inhumane conditions he was being held in, and which the other 10 political prisoners we have in that prison have had to withstand“, said Ferrer, “lots of mistreatment, aggressions, and the guards are using common delinquents to harass them. These common prisoners are dangerous, many of them murderers, who lend themselves to such actions in exchange for food and other privileges. They are turned against the human rights defenders“.
Ferrer emphasized the situation of dissident rapper Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga, known as “El Critico”, who is also the secretary of UNPACU for the city of Bayamo. The musician has been behind bars for more than 2 months in the Bayamo prison known as Las Mangas, still without a trial. He was violently arrested after the political police raided his home in March, attacking him and other relatives with tear gas.
“I was able to briefly speak with Angel Yunier on May 20th. In Las Mangas prison there is a very critical situation“, said the dissident leader, “Angel told me about the horrible medical attention offered to sick prisoners. He also told me that numerous prisoners have so many problems and they turn to self-infliction to call attention on so many abuses, the severe hunger, the lack of medical care and other cruel treatments“.
The young dissident continues to be in a judicial limbo while the authorities have not given his family any details as to what his fate will be.
The situation of activist Jorge Cervantes Garcia, from Contramaestre, is also critical. Ferrer says that “he is still recuperating from the lengthy hunger strike carried out to demand the freedom of Luis Enrique Lozada. Cervantes is still in Las Tunas prison, also amid a very hostile atmosphere. He was physically assaulted last week by a common prisoner who is addicted to mood-altering pills”.
Ferrer Garcia expressed that although the number of political prisoners is increasing, so too is the number of activists, mainly young ones, who are willing to go out to the streets to work towards a new Cuba.
Take a listen to the following audio (in Spanish) of Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia:
For more information from inside Cuba, contact: Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia – Cell Phone: +53 – 146-740 / Twitter: @jdanielferrer
Raday Matos Matos, a young dissident from the city of Baracoa, Guantanamo province, spoke with this blog about a recent march that 7 members of the Juan Pablo II Opposition Movement and of the Eastern Democratic Alliance from the mentioned city carried out this past Saturday, 18th of May, as part of the Boitel and Zapata Live Campaign, kicked off to honor Cuban martyrs Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Pedro Luis Boitel, political prisoners who died after lengthy hunger strikes. The march was also to publicly denounce the social situation which everyday citizens go through on the island. The demonstration was repressed by political police forces, but the dissident managed to receive solidarity on behalf of their neighbors.
The dissidents set out in march carrying signs which read “Down with hunger“, “down with the dictatorship“, “down with low salaries“, “long live peace” and “freedom“.
The arrests took place minutes after the march started, which went from La Laguna neighborhood all the way to Marti Park.
Raday recounts, “before the arrest we were physically assaulted by secret agents at the service of the political police. In fact, they hurt a woman amongst us the most, Daisy Romero Fernandez“.
Other assaulted dissidents were Luis Noa Silva, Jorge Luis Reyes and Francisco Luis Manzanet, president of the Juan Pablo II Movement. The latter also provided this audio with more details about the activity, published on the YouTube account of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).
The police officials snatched the signs which the dissidents were carrying and ripped them, all of this before the stare of various everyday citizens who, according to Matos Matos, started to shout messages against the repressors and in favor of the activists.
With further violence, the agents forced the activists inside police vehicles which took them to the National Revolutionary Police Unit of the municipality, where they were all kept for a number of hours. In the case of Raday, the agents issues a written warning for him because of his acts of civil disobedience.
On the following day- May 19th- the majority of the dissidents in all of Baracoa awoke to find their homes surrounded by the political police. The agents were impeding the activists from stepping outside of their homes.
“We have been surrounded, harassed and haven’t been able to leave our own homes. Other activists have called me to confirm that they are going through the same things, saying that the political police and State Security are keeping a tight vigilance over their homes“, denounces Matos, “many police vehicles have been passing by my house, going around, keeping watch, surrounding each of our homes“.
Persecution of dissidents on behalf of the State police have been increasing in the city of Baracoa, but everything indicates that it is because of the growing level of activism out on the streets, especially on behalf of young nonconformists.
“We accuse the government for all the repression, persecution and all the aggression“, said Raday Matos.
Listen to the audio of Raday Matos Matos (in Spanish):
For more information from Cuba, contact:
Raday Matos Matos- Cell Phone: +58-144-692 / Twitter: @radaymatos Francisco Luis Manzanet Ortiz- Cell Phone: +58-325-844
This Wednesday, May 8th 2013, marks 2 years since human rights activist Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia died after a beating at the hands of the political police in the city of Santa Clara, Villa Clara province, in Cuba.
Soto was beat by agents on May 5th 2011 in the mentioned city for the simple fact that he was out on the street carrying out a completely peaceful demonstration against the regime. He was urgently rushed to a hospital where he died three days later, on Mother’s Day.
He was 46 years old and was a proud father.
Members of Cuba’s internal opposition have considered Soto Garcia to be one of the many martyrs in the fight for freedom in the country, and have even used his name to create new pro-democracy groups.
“My friend Juan Wilfredo Soto (#JWS) was assassinated 2 years ago in Cuba for thinking differently”, wrote blogger and Baptist Pastor Mario Felix Lleonart on his Twitter account (@maritovoz), “God will do justice very soon for the assasination of Juan Wilfredo Soto, Oswaldo Paya, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Laura Pollan and many others”, signaled another message.
Meanwhile, dissident GuillermoFariñas wrote on his Twitter account (@chirusa32) that on the second anniversary of Soto’s death, 16 activists were impeded by political police forces to enter the cemetery where the remains of Soto Garcia lay in Santa Clara. Another 4 were arrested.
Friends of the dissident lovingly referred to Juan Wilfredo Soto as “The Student“.
Here is a video-report with images of some of the events in which Berta Soler, representative of the Ladies in White, took part in the city of Miami, “the capital of the Cuban exile”.
The events in this video include the press conference Soler held at the University of Miami, an emotional encounter with ex political prisoners from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s in “La Casa del Preso” (‘The House of the Prisoner’), a vigil in honor of Laura Pollan, a tribute to Orlando Zapata Tamayo and a moving Mass at the emblematic Ermita Shrine.
Berta Soler passed through Miami inspiring and re-inspiring many, letting them know that the struggle for freedom is very much alive and that their are no Cubans from here, nor Cubans from over there…just Cubans.
The image of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero lit up the New York night on Saturday April 6th, thanks to the creativity of exiled Cuban artist Geandy Pavon, as part of a heartfelt tribute to the deceased dissidents, members of the Christian Liberation Movement left dead last July after a mysterious ‘car accident’ which fellow dissidents and relatives denounce as an assassination organized by the regime’s State Security apparatus.
In the presence of Rosa Maria Paya, her brother Oswaldo Paya Acevedo (children of the dissident leader) and former political prisoner Regis Iglesias (representative of the Movement in exile), Pavon projected a photo of Oswaldo and Harold on the Cuban UN Missions building, located on Lexington Avenue.
The exposition is part of Project Nemesis which in the past has paid tribute to other activists disappeared by the Cuban regime, like Orlando Zapata Tamayo (projected in Washington DC, New York and Madrid) and Laura Pollan (projected in Ottawa, Canada).
“It was a gesture of solidarity and also a gesture which is completely in tune with what we are demanding”, said Rosa Maria Paya about the tribute, “we are asking for the truth so that, just like this light is lighting up the walls of the Cuban consulate, the truth illuminates the hearts of Cubans and so that we can all- together- go down the path of reconciliation to achieve the peace, happiness and democracy we are seeking”.
The reflection of an “L” for Liberty was also projected over the image of Paya and Ceper. This hand gesture was popularized by the Christian Liberation Movement to demand freedom for Cuba within the opposition.
This 17th of March was the first Sunday in which the Ladies in White marched throughout the streets of Cuba with their leader- Berta Soler- out of the country. The women also dedicated their weekly march in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Black Spring, when 75 dissidents (the majority independent journalists) were arrested and sentenced to years of prison after quick trials.
Ivan Hernandez Carillo, an ex political prisoner from this same group of the 75, informed on his Twitter account (@ivanlibre) that in Havana 51 Ladies in White marched and made it to Mass at the Santa Rita Church.
Hernandez also pointed out that in the province of Matanzas a total of 18 women marched. 4 did so in the city of Colon, 3 in Perico, 1 in the Espana Central and another 10 in Cardenas. In Ciego de Avila province 2 women reportedly made it to Mass.
In the Eastern region of the country, 60 Ladies in White assisted Mass in the National ‘El Cobre’ Shrine (Santiago de Cuba) and 8 made it in Guantanamo province.
Former political prisoner (also from the 75) and leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, denounced on his Twitter account (@jdanielferrer) that a group of Ladies in White in the province of Holguin were arrested by the political police, among them the representative of the group in that area, Berta Guerrero Segura.
“These dignified Cuban women suffer persecution, violence, arbitrary arrests, economic asphyxiation, hunger, etc.”, highlighted another tweet by Ferrer.
Isael Poveda Silva, from the Eastern Democratic Alliance, said on his Twitter account (@IsaelCuba) that Lady in White Mildred Noemi Sanchez Infante was “insulted, offended, and arrested by State Security agents” as she was stepping out of her home in Antilla, Holguin. The same thing happened to her last Sunday.
Meanwhile, Berta Soler, national representative of the group, has been denouncing the situation each of these women face on her first trip ever outside of Cuba, on international forums and interviews with diverse media outlets. With the slogan “Yes to Cuba, No to Castro“, Soler has declared that the Ladies in White and the opposition in general have grown stronger despite the regime’s violent tactics and that, in reality, there have been no actual reforms by the totalitarian system, instead “tiny moves” which try to give an image of change to the rest of the world.
The repressive wave known as the Black Spring of 2003 was what led to the creation of this female group, made up by mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and aunts which demanded freedom for their relatives.
This Sunday was also the third anniversary in which many of these women were beaten and violently arrested by police agents in Havana, just days after the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo. These acts of violence are common each Sunday, but when this happened on that March of 2010, the images were captured by the cameras of the international media and went around the world, inspiring a high level of solidarity, including a march of more than 100,000 people in Miami just days later.