Tag Archives: Freedom of Expression

Is Cuba heading towards a repeat of the 2003 Black Spring?

Original Here: Black Spring?

logo-enReporters Without Borders is worried about the situation of journalists in Cuba, where there have been cases of physical attacks, arbitrary detention, death threats and blocking of access to information in recent days.

Hablemos Press, an independent news agency and free speech NGO, has been directly targeted by the Internal Security Department. Police physically attacked its editor, Roberto de Jesús Guerra, in Havana on 11 June. According to his wife, Hablemos Press reporter Magaly Otero Suarez, he is currently immobilized at home with multiple injuries to the face and right foot.

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Roberto de Jesús Guerra

A car ran down Raúl Ramirez Puig, a Hablemos Press correspondent in Mayabeque province, on 7 June. One of the two people in the car told him: “Anything can happen.”

Mario Hechavarría Driggs, who also works for Hablemos Press, was the latest victim of arbitrary arrest when Internal Security Department officials arrested him on 8 June. Journalism student Yeander Farrés Delgado was also arrested while photographing the capitol building in Havana (now the headquarters of the science, technology and environment ministry) and was held for five hours.

Although the Castro regime gives the appearance of opening up politically, the methods used by the authorities to silence dissident journalists are clearly becoming more and more brutal,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “The last of the journalists arrested in the Black Spring of 2003 was freed in 2011, but since then we have seen a gradual increase in repression.”

Hablemos Press reported on 11 June that it has received repeated telephone threats in the past two months. After taking several threatening calls on the Hablemos Press phone line, Otero was summoned by the Internal Security Department on 12 June, and told to moderate the tone of the agency’s articles, which have irritated the government.

The authorities have also gone so far as to disconnect the mobile phones of De Jesus Guerra, Otero and Arian Guerra, another Hablemos Press journalist, from Cuba’s sole mobile phone network, provided by state-owned ETECSA, to hamper their communications.

What happens to the right to information if the government blocks phone connections at will and Internet use is extremely limited in Cuba?” said Camille Soulier, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk. “We call on the Cuban authorities to restore the phone connections of Hablemos Press’ journalists without delay.

Reporters Without Borders also condemns the conditions in which the authorities have been holding the independent journalist Juliet Michelena Díaz in Havana since 7 April without any court decision in her case. She was initially accused of threatening a neighbour, but the charge was changed to “terrorism” within a week of her arrest.

Yayabo Press journalist Yoenni de Jesus Guerra García has meanwhile been held since October 2013 and was given a seven-year jail term in March. And the blogger Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, one of the 100 “information heroes” profiled by RWB in May, has been held on trumped-up charges since February 2013.

Cuba is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. This is the lowest ranking of any country in the western hemisphere.

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Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar launch Independent Online Newspaper

BBC, 21 May 2014

Original Article here: Independent Online Newspaper

The Online Newspaper is here:  http://www.14ymedio.com/

An online newspaper by Cuba’s best-known dissident blogger, Yoani Sanchez, has gone live.

Sanchez said the website would provide daily news about the communist-run country, but insisted it would not be a platform against the government.

The paper is produced in Cuba, but is only available online; it does not have a print version. Cuban media, including the country’s three national newspapers, are under strict state control. But President Raul Castro has eased restrictions on dissidents in recent years, allowing opponents of the government – including Sanchez – to travel abroad.

The paper, which is called 14ymedio, launched at 08:05 Cuban time (12:05 GMT). The title makes reference to the year of its publication, 2014, and the word medio, which is Spanish for media.

In her blog published in the online paper’s first edition, Sanchez says 14ymedio has been an obsession for her for more than four years. She says she wants the paper to “contribute information so that Cubans can decide with more maturity their own destinies”.

Its first edition also features a report from a Havana hospital, describing the work of nurses and other staff on night duty and the victims of violence they attend to. It also showcases a lengthy interview with jailed opposition writer Angel Santiesteban.

 But not all its contents is of a political nature. There is also advice on how to deal with dry or damaged hair and a sports feature on why Cuban football is getting less coverage and state backing than baseball.

‘No loaded words’

The editor-in-chief is Sanchez’s husband, fellow activist Reinaldo Escobar. Escobar told the Associated Press news agency that the paper would try to avoid any trouble with the authorities by remaining as an online-only publication. But he said that it would apply for accreditation for official events.

“We want to produce a newspaper that doesn’t aim to be anti-Castro, a newspaper that’s committed to the truth, to Cubans’ everyday reality,” he told AP. Escobar said the paper would avoid using loaded words such as “dictatorship” and “regime” and would refer to Mr Castro simply as “the head of state” or “President Gen Raul Castro”.

About 10 staff worked for weeks in Havana on the launch of the first issue. Critics say the website will reach very few Cubans inside the country, where there is limited internet access.

Sanchez achieved international recognition with her prize-winning blog Generation Y, in which she criticised the restrictions on freedom of speech and movement imposed on the island since the 1959 revolution

yoani-marido-cuba--644x362Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar

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Yoani Sanchez: “14ymedio Is Born: Now I Can Dream Even Higher”

Yoani Sanchez

Original article here: 14ymedio

The 14ymedio online newspaper is here:  http://www.14ymedio.com/

New Picture (7)I don’t remember the title of the movie, nor the director, nor even if I saw it at a movie theater or on TV. I just remember the scene, a brief moment in which the protagonist takes off his coat and gives it to his friend. He confesses to him that the garment, modern, leather, was his dream. “Go, so that you can have higher dreams,” he snaps while handing over the object of his desires.

When a project that has been desired for too long is realized, we get the feeling that we must set ourselves new goals. 14ymedio.com has been my obsession for more than four years. First, I felt it needed to be born so that its information could contribute to Cubans deciding their own destiny with greater maturity. Later came the question of how to achieve it, and, from there, the drafting of a timeline as necessary as it was difficult to meet.

There was also a long period when my friends snickered as I talked about it. “The crazy newspaper woman,” more than one person called me. The most difficult part, however, was — and remains — giving this fantasy a real life. The stumbles have been innumerable. From the taxes for a power that sees in information a gesture of treason, to confronting the skepticism of some friends. But obsessions are like that, they tend not to let themselves be defeated too easily.

Today, I have achieved a dream. Unlike the character in that movie, it’s not a piece of clothing but a space for journalism in which many colleagues accompany me. Born with a desire to reach many readers within and outside of Cuba, offering a full spectrum of news, opinion columns and information about the reality of our Island. It will take a lot of work, there is no doubt. We will grow little by little, trying to ensure the quality of every published piece.

Now I can have higher dreams: In a year, perhaps we will be at the corner kiosk. Who knows?

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HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, World Report 2014: CUBA

New Picture (10)

In 2010 and 2011, Cuba’s government released dozens of political prisoners on condition they accept exile in exchange for freedom. Since then, it has relied less on long-term prison sentences to punish dissent and has relaxed draconian travel restrictions that divided families and prevented its critics from leaving and returning to the island.

Nevertheless, the Cuban government continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights. Officials employ a range of tactics to punish dissent and instill fear in the public, including beatings, public acts of shaming, termination of employment, and threats of long-term imprisonment. Short-term arbitrary arrests have increased dramatically in recent years and routinely prevent human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others from gathering or moving about freely.

Arbitrary Detentions and Short-Term Imprisonment

The government continues to rely on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate individuals who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation—an independent human rights group the government views as illegal—received over 3,600 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through September 2013, compared to approximately 2,100 in 2010.

The detentions are often used preemptively to prevent individuals from participating in events viewed as critical of the government, such as peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Many dissidents are beaten and threatened when detained, even if they do not try to resist.

Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify detentions and threaten detainees with criminal sentences if they continue to participate in “counterrevolutionary” activities. In some cases, detainees receive official warnings, which prosecutors may later use in criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior. Dissidents said these warnings aim to discourage them from participating in activities seen as critical of the government.

Victims of such arrests may be held incommunicado for several hours to several days. Some are held at police stations, while others are driven to remote areas far from their homes where they are interrogated, threatened, and abandoned.

On August 25, 2013, more than 30 women from the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegal—were detained after attending Sunday mass at a church in Santiago, beaten, forced onto a bus, and left at various isolated locations on the city’s outskirts. The same day, eight members of the group in Havana and seven more in Holguín were arbitrarily detained as they marched peacefully to attend mass.

Political Prisoners

Cubans who criticize the government may face criminal prosecution. They do not benefit from due process guarantees, such as the right to fair and public hearings by a competent and impartial tribunal. In practice, courts are “subordinated” to the executive and legislative branches, denying meaningful judicial independence. Political prisoners are routinely denied parole after completing the minimum required sentence as punishment for refusing to participate in ideological activities, such as “reeducation” classes.

The death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010 after his 85-day hunger strike and the subsequent hunger strike by dissident Guillermo Fariñas pressured the government to release the remaining political prisoners from the “group of 75” (75 dissidents sentenced to long prison terms in a 2003 crackdown). Yet most were forced to choose between ongoing prison sentences and forced exile. The overwhelming majority accepted relocation to Spain in exchange for their freedom.

Dozens of political prisoners remain in Cuban prisons according to local human rights groups, which estimate that there are more political prisoners whose cases they cannot document because the government prevents independent national or international human rights groups from accessing its prisons.

Luis Enrique Labrador Diaz was one of four people detained in January 2011 for distributing leaflets in Havana with slogans such as “Down with the Castros” and was subsequently convicted in May 2011 for contempt and public disorder in a closed, summary trial. He was still in prison at time of writing.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls all media outlets in Cuba and tightly restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression. Only a tiny fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of the high cost of and limited access to the Internet. A May 2013 government decree directed at expanding Internet access stipulates that it cannot be used for activities that undermine “public security, the integrity, the economy, independence, and national security” of Cuba—broad conditions that could be used to impede access to government critics.

A small number of independent journalists and bloggers manage to write articles for websites or blogs, or publish tweets. Yet those who publish information considered critical of the government are sometimes subject to smear campaigns, attacks, and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms.

After jazz musician Roberto Carcasses called for direct elections and freedom of information in a nationally televised concert in Havana in September 2013, officials told him that his words benefitted “the enemy” and that he would be barred from performing in state-run venues. The government lifted the ban—widely reported in the international press—a week later. In May, the director of the government-run Casa de las Americas cultural institute, Roberto Zurbano, published an article in the New York Times highlighting persistent inequality and prejudice affecting Afro-Cubans. He was subsequently attacked in the government-controlled press and demoted to a lesser job at the institute.

Human Rights Defenders

The Cuban government refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Meanwhile, government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses.

Travel Restrictions and Family Separation

Reforms to travel regulations that went into effect in January 2013 eliminate the need for an exit visa to leave the island, which had previously been used to deny the right to travel to people critical of the government and their families. Nearly 183,000 people traveled abroad from January to September 2013, according to the government. These included human rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers who previously had been denied permission to leave the island despite repeated requests, such as blogger Yoani Sanchez.

Nonetheless, the reform establishes that the government may restrict the right to travel on the vague grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest,” which could allow the authorities to deny people who express dissent the ability to leave Cuba. The government also continues to arbitrarily deny Cubans living abroad the right to visit the island. In August, the Cuban government denied Blanca Reyes, a Damas de Blanco member living in exile in Spain, permission to travel to Cuba to visit her ailing 93-year-old father, who died in October before she could visit him.

The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba through a 1997 law known as Decree 217. Designed to limit migration to Havana, the decree requires that Cubans obtain government permission before moving to the country’s capital. It is often used to prevent dissidents traveling there to attend meetings and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live in the capital.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded, unhygienic, and unhealthy, leading to extensive malnutrition and illness. More than 57,000 Cubans are in prisons or work camps, according to a May 2012 article in an official government newspaper. Prisoners who criticize the government or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest are subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care. Prisoners have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress.

While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in April, it continued to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

Key International Actors

The United States’ economic embargo of Cuba, in place for more than half a century, continues to impose indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people and has done nothing to improve the country’s human rights. At the United Nations General Assembly in October, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the US embargo.

In 2009, President Barack Obama enacted reforms to eliminate restrictions on travel and remittances by Cuban Americans to Cuba put in place during the administration of President George W. Bush in 2004. In 2011, Obama used his executive powers to ease “people-to-people” travel restrictions, allowing religious, educational, and cultural groups from the US to travel to Cuba.

The European Union continues to retain its “Common Position” on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which conditions full economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights.

Former US Agency for International Development contractor Alan Gross remained in prison despite a UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention report in November 2012 that called for his immediate release. Gross was detained in Cuba in December 2009 and later sentenced to 15 years in prison for distributing telecommunications equipment to religious groups. The working group said Gross’s detention was arbitrary and that Cuba’s government had failed to provide sufficient evidence of the charges against him.

In May, Cuba underwent its second Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council. Several countries expressed concern with repression of human rights defenders, increased arbitrary detentions, and lack of freedom of expression. Cuba rejected many of these recommendations on the grounds that they were “politically biased and built on false premises, resulting from efforts to discredit Cuba on the part of those who, with their hegemonic ambitions, refuse to accept the diversity and the right to freedom of determination of the Cuban people.”

In November, Cuba was re-elected to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, defeating Uruguay for a regional position despite its poor human rights record and consistent efforts to undermine the council’s work to respond to human rights violators.

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Cuban dissidents say police detained more than 150 on Human Rights Day

BY JUAN O. TAMAYO Miami Herald, Wednesday, 12.11.13

Cuban police carried out more than 150 detentions of dissidents Tuesday on International Human Rights Day and followed up Wednesday by carting off the founder of a group that was holding a rare human rights congress, according to activists in Havana.

Antonio Rodiles, founder of the group Estado de SATS, was taken away by police Wednesday around 11 a.m. as he watched a group of children write graffiti on the sidewalk in front of his home, activist Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz said.  Dissident blogger Regina Coyula, who was in Rodiles’ house participating in the First Congress for Human Rights, told reporters that Rodiles was detained when he intervened with police who were harassing his girlfriend for taking photos of the children.

Yohandry Fontana, a pro-government blogger widely believed to be a State Security official, tweeted Wednesday: “I confirm the detention of Antonio Rodiles for attacking and insulting children.”

Estado de SATS and two other independent groups sponsored the Congress, which started Tuesday on the anniversary of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights and was to end Wednesday night with a musical concert.

Sanchez Santa Cruz, head of the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said he had information on more than 150 detentions on Tuesday and was still receiving new reports as of Wednesday evening. All but a handful had been released by Tuesday night after so-called “short-term arbitrary detentions for political motives,” usually designed to intimidate or harass dissidents and keep them from attending opposition gatherings. “That’s not counting the harassment and other acts of vandalism because there was a lot of violence by the forces of repression along the entire country,” Sanchez Santa Cruz said by phone from Havana.

Reports of more detentions were still arriving at his Havana office Wednesday because government security forces shut down the cellular and home phones of several hundred activists for much of Tuesday, he said.

The dissident group Ladies in White said its members alone suffered about 130 detentions as they tried to stage street protests — not tolerated by the government — in downtown Havana and the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city. Others were detained as they tried to reach Rodiles’ home to participate in the two days of panel discussions, video programs and art shows, according to dissidents. Also detained were several members of the Cuban Patriotic Union, an opposition group most active in the eastern part of the island. UNPACU founder Jose Daniel Ferrer said more than 130 UNPACU and Ladies in White members were detained Tuesday in eastern Cuba alone amid a string of protest meetings, marches and distributions of anti-government leaflets and posters.

Several dissidents were injured when government-organized mobs and State Security agents threw rocks at them, Ferrer said. Mob members and police also made off with cameras, cell phones and cash taken from many of the opposition activists.

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A member of Ladies in White is detained by Cuban security before the start of a march marking International Human Rights Day in Havana, Dec. 10, 2013.

 

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In Cuba’s Press, Streets and Living Rooms, Glimmers of Openness to Criticism

  By VICTORIA BURNETT New York Times; Published: December 7, 2013; MEXICO CITY.

 It is a rare day in Cuba when the Communist Party’s triumphalist newspaper suggests that the government — just maybe — messed up. Or when the party’s chief ideologist renounces government secrecy. Or a salsa star, performing at an official concert, calls for the freedom to vote and to smoke marijuana. But such gestures of openness are becoming more common.

Glasnost it is not, say Cuban intellectuals and analysts. But glimpses of candor in the official news media and audacious criticism from people who, publicly at least, support the revolution suggest widening tolerance of a more frank, if circumscribed, discussion of the country’s problems. “There is more space for debate,” said Armando Chaguaceda, a Cuban political scientist and blogger who lives in Mexico. “People are more outspoken.”

For decades, Cuba’s garrulous citizens discussed politics sotto voce and barely referred to Fidel and Raúl Castro by name, even in their own living rooms. But in recent years, especially in Havana, Cubans have begun talking more openly about the economy, the political leadership and the restrictions they resent. As they taste new freedoms and, increasingly, discuss their problems online, they are pushing the boundary between what can and cannot be said. “What people can get away with has changed,” said Ted Henken, a professor at the City University of New York.

Much of this comes down to President Raúl Castro’s style, said Carlos Alberto Pérez, a self-described “revolutionary” blogger. Since Mr. Castro took over from his ailing brother in 2006, he has invited Cubans to give their opinions on the economy and called on the state-run news media to be more incisive. “People in Cuba want to debate, argue, listen and be listened to,” said Mr. Pérez, whose website covers issues ranging from the difficulty of getting a body cremated to public transport.

Overhauls allowing limited private-sector activity and more freedom to travel have loosened the state’s grip on Cubans’ lives and led them to question more openly a political system that has kept the same people in power for more than five decades.

In September, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference made a bold, if oblique, bid for a more democratic system, calling in a pastoral letter for an “updating” of the political model and saying Cuba should be a “plural” society.

Meanwhile, the Internet — despite being out of reach for most Cubans — has broken the state’s monopoly on information and allowed for a spectrum of opinion, bloggers and analysts say. Bloggers, including many who support the Communist system, have written about economic mismanagement, the timidity of changes, corruption, bureaucracy, the lack of Internet connectivity and the passivity of the state-run news media. Blogs and Facebook posts often spur streams of blunt online comment. “It’s revealing that people who are supposedly on the inside are making the same criticisms as people on the outside,” Professor Henken said.

There are still limits. While the government preaches frankness, it continues to crush opposition, and those who step over the fickle line between loyal criticism and dissent risk ostracism, loss of employment, harassment or jail. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent group that tracks treatment of activists, said there were 761 short-term arrests of dissidents in November, one of the highest figures in the past two years. And in October, five independent journalists were detained for several days, according to Reporters Without Borders. “It’s ambiguous,” said Mr. Chaguaceda, the political scientist. “It depends who you are, how you say things, where you say them.”

In the middle of a nationally televised concert in September, the jazz singer Robertico Carcassés surprised the nation by calling for the right to elect the president, the legalization of marijuana and freedom of information. Even more shocking was the authorities’ reaction: After barring Mr. Carcassés from performing in state-owned venues, meaning most of them, they backed down after Silvio Rodríguez, a famous revolutionary singer, stuck up for his colleague’s right to speak out.

The state-run media, which comprises virtually all press, television and radio in Cuba, has publicly embraced what it calls the “battle against secretiveness” and made efforts, however tepid, to shake up its coverage. In September, the state-run television news introduced a segment, “Cuba Dice,” or Cuba Says, in which Cubans on the street are interviewed about issues including alcoholism, housing problems and the high price of fruit and vegetables.

In October, Col. Rolando Alfonso Borges, chief of ideology for the Communist Party, told a summit meeting of the Cuban Journalists’ Union that the party rejected secrecy. Last month, Miguel Díaz Canel Bermúdez, first vice president of the Council of State, met with journalists in the provinces to urge them to be more polemical. In a highly unusual show of flexibility, Granma, the party’s official newspaper, wrote in November that public opinion seemed to be against a recent ban on private 3-D cinemas. Noting the “rich” online debate, the article said Cubans supported regulating and reopening the movie theaters and hinted that the decision might be reversed.

Indeed, blogs have won high-level readers. The reform-minded blog La Joven Cuba was blocked for several months last year after it published several critical articles. These days, however, “we bump into officials, and they tell us, ‘Oh, I was just reading your article,’ ” said Harold Cárdenas Lema, 28, one of the blog’s founders.

The Internet, coupled with greater traffic between the island and the Cuban diaspora, has smudged the divisions that have defined life in Cuba since Fidel Castro’s 1961 dictum, “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing.”  

“Cuba is a country where for years there was nothing but extremes,” Mr. Cárdenas Lema said. “But we’ve managed to achieve a more nuanced reality.”

Some dismiss the changes as window-dressing or a tactic to co-opt internal dissent. Arturo López Levy, a former intelligence analyst with the Cuban government who lectures at the University of Denver, says the push for a more critical official news media is partly an attempt to control a debate that is already happening in social media and elsewhere.  “Faced with the challenge of a more open environment, the government would prefer to channel complaints and debates through its own mechanisms,” he said.

Mr. López Levy likened the task of pushing for change from within in Cuba to the punishment of Sisyphus, rolling a stone up a hill only to watch it roll to the bottom. “But sometimes,” he acknowledged, “the stone comes to rest in a different position.”

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Cuban Blogger, ​Elaine Díaz, Reveres Fidel but Pushes for Reform

The New York Times By NATALIE KITROEFF June 11, 2013, 2:42 pm

Elaine Díaz

Elaine Díaz may be the most important Cuban dissident you’ve never heard of. But that is perhaps because she doesn’t even call herself a dissident.

 

Ms. Díaz is a leader of a group of Cubans who are opening a new avenue for criticism in a country that, for the last 50 years, has offered its citizens only two options: with us or against us. Ms. Díaz insists that there is a third way. “Cuba has a lot to change,” Ms. Díaz said during a visit to New York last week, “but I don’t think you need to destroy the system to create something new.”

 

That’s a convenient view, because that system is paying her salary.

 

A professor of journalism at the University of Havana, a public institution, Ms. Díaz is an employee of the state. That has not stopped her from writing publicly and with disarming directness about the challenges of daily life in Cuba on her blog, La Polémica Digital, for the last five years. She is young, progressive and fiercely loyal to the Cuban government. But she says she is also determined to reform a socialist system that no longer works as well as it used to for the common man.

 

The delicacy of that relationship is not lost on Ms. Díaz. “I’ve been scared that maybe I’d write something that would be interpreted the wrong way,” she said, “and that I would be punished, or lose my job.”

 

She has managed to set herself apart in an increasingly cluttered Cuban blogosphere, earning respect for her thorough reporting and simple, moving prose. Last year she traveled abroad for a meeting of global bloggers in Nairobi, and last month she arrived in the United States for the annual Latin American Studies Association conference in Washington.

 

So far, Ms. Díaz said, she hasn’t heard a peep from the authorities about her writing. Indeed, the government has been surprisingly tolerant of Ms. Díaz and her colleagues – loosely affiliated under the moniker Bloggers Cuba – a fact that some experts attribute to the group’s willingness to self-censor.

 

Ted Henken, an expert on social media in Cuba, called these younger bloggers “silent dissidents,” adding, “Their big problem is that they’re constantly biting their tongue.”

 

Cuba’s more famous and far more radical critic, Yoani Sánchez, shares that view. When Ms. Díaz abruptly took a leave from her blog last August, Ms. Sánchez speculated that she had been forced off the keyboard by a government that had lost patience with her.

 

Ms. Sánchez, taking a jab at Ms. Díaz’s ties to the government, called her the “official Cuban blogger” and wrote that “Elaine Díaz has transgressed the limits of criticism permissible” for an employee of the state. Ms. Díaz insists that she stopped writing only to focus more intently on her teaching, and she has since resumed the blog.

 

But Ms. Díaz does acknowledge that there are taboo subjects, like the state of education or health care, that she is hesitant to discuss casually. “If I go to a dirty hospital, I’m not going to write about it,” she said, “because I have a commitment to the system.” Universal health care and free education are seen as the revolution’s most significant success stories, which makes it imperative to keep them intact, even as they quickly become well-worn myths.

 

In fact, for government loyalists like Ms. Díaz, it seems that, as you get closer to the core of the communist narrative holding Cuba together, the space for genuine debate shrinks. Rattling off a series of topics that she would be careful about touching, Ms. Díaz paused before the kicker: “Fidel Castro, for example, is sacred to us,” she said in an almost reverent tone. “At least in the world that I move around in, there’s a respect and historical gratitude” toward him.

 

“He’s a figure that, when you launch into criticism, it’s very difficult,” she added.

 

That approach may be more cautious than the tack taken by Ms. Sánchez and more extreme elements of the opposition, but that doesn’t mean it should be discounted. “It’s as important or more important when people who consider themselves believers express criticism because they can’t be as easily disqualified as people on the out and out, in the opposition,” said Mr. Henken, the expert on Cuba’s Internet. “Yoani is the acerbic agnostic, whereas Elaine is the critical believer,” he added.

 

Even the United States government is taking notice. Last month, Conrad Tribble, the deputy chief of the United States Interests Section in Havana, Washington’s diplomatic outpost in Cuba, made an unannounced visit to a public meeting of what The Associated Press called “Cuba’s pro-government Twitteratti.”

 

A brief video clip of the encounter posted on Crónicas de Cuba, the journalist Jorge Legañoa Alonso’s blog, showed Mr. Tribble, sporting a fuchsia Hawaiian shirt, saying he had come to talk with the group about things that the United States and Cuba share — “baseball, music, et cetera” — and on issues in dispute.

 

Video of an American diplomat interacting with Cuba’s “Twitteratti” in Havana last month, posted on YouTube by Jorge Legañoa Alonso, a journalist and blogger.

 

His presence was an olive branch in a diplomatic relationship where engagement on both sides has consisted mainly of covert operations and official bluster. It was also a sign of the growing influence of this corps of young bloggers, whom the State Department wants to cultivate a relationship with, despite their pro-Castro bent.

 

Ms. Díaz, who could not make the meeting but has interacted with Mr. Tribble on Twitter this year, said she appreciated the gesture.

 

@conradtribble Espero tengan la oportunidad de rectificar estos casos que limitan la libertad de intercambio académico entre ambas naciones

 

— Elaine Díaz (@elainediaz2003) 8 Apr 13

 

“He didn’t go there to make a speech or convince anyone, or try to impose anything,” she said. “He’s welcome. Any steps toward a closer engagement between the United States and Cuba, even if they’re small, are good.”

 

Ms. Díaz would know. In the two weeks she has spent in the United States, she said, “there have been moments that have changed my life, and have nearly made me cry.”

 

She recalled arriving at the Miami airport and being handed a cellphone by a stranger who saw that she was lost. Or a man in New York City who walked her to her host’s house when she was lost in a sea of apartment buildings in Washington Heights.

 

“I had the impression that in the United States, no one cares what you have to say, no one will talk to you, everyone is absorbed in their own world,” she said, adding that the image of “a very individualistic culture, it’s not what I’ve found.”

When she returns to Cuba in a week, Ms. Díaz said she would write about the experience on her blog. For now, she’s enjoying her stay in enemy territory.

 

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Amnesty International, The State of the World’s Human Rights: CUBA

Amnesty International Annual Report 2013, May 22, 2013

Repression of independent journalists, opposition leaders and human rights activists increased. There were reports of an average of 400 short-term arrests each month and activists travelling from the provinces to Havana were frequently detained. Prisoners of conscience continued to be sentenced on trumped-up charges or held in pre-trial detention.

Rights to freedom of expression, association, movement and assembly

Peaceful demonstrators, independent journalists and human rights activists were routinely detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Many were detained and others were subjected to acts of repudiation by government supporters.

  • In March, local human rights activists faced a wave of arrests and local organizations reported 1,137 arbitrary detentions before and after the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

The authorities adopted a range of measures to prevent activists reporting on human rights including surrounding the homes of activists and disconnecting phones. Organizations whose activities had been tolerated by the authorities in the past, such as the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, were targeted. Independent journalists reporting on dissidents’ activities were detained.

The government continued to exert control over all media, while access to information on the internet remained challenging due to technical limitations and restrictions on content.

  • In July, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, one of Cuba’s most respected human rights and pro-democracy campaigners, died in a car accident in Granma Province. Several journalists and bloggers covering the hearing into the accident were detained for several hours.
  • Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, founder of the independent news agency Let’s Talk Press (Hablemos Press), was forced into a car in September, and reportedly beaten as he was driven to a police station. Before being released, he was told that he had become the “number one dissident journalist” and would be imprisoned if he continued his activities.

A number of measures were used to stop or penalize activities by political opponents. Many attempting to attend meetings or demonstrations were detained or prevented from leaving their homes. Political opponents, independent journalists and human rights activists were routinely denied visas to travel abroad.

  • For the 19th time since May 2008, Yoani Sánchez, an opposition blogger, was denied an exit visa. She had planned to attend the screening in Brazil of a documentary on blogging and censorship in which she featured.
  • In September, around 50 members of the Ladies in White organization were detained on their way to Havana to attend a public demonstration. Most were immediately sent back to their home provinces and then released; 19 were held incommunicado for several days.

In October, the government announced changes to the Migration Law that facilitate travel abroad, including the removal of mandatory exit visas. However, a series of requirements – over which the government would exercise discretion – could continue to restrict freedom to leave the country. The amendments were due to become effective in January 2013.

Prisoners of Conscience

Seven new prisoners of conscience were adopted by Amnesty International during the year; three were released without charge.

  • Antonio Michel Lima Cruz was released in October after completing his two-year sentence. He had been convicted of “insulting symbols of the homeland” and “public disorder” for singing anti-government songs. His brother, Marcos Máiquel, who received a longer sentence for the same offences, remained in prison at the end of the year.
  • Ivonne Malleza Galano and Ignacio Martínez Montejo were released in January, along with Isabel Haydee Álvarez, who was detained after calling for their release. They were held for 52 days without charge after taking part in a demonstration in November 2011. On their release, officials threatened them with “harsh sentences” if they continued dissident activities.
  • Yasmín Conyedo Riverón, a journalist and representative of Ladies in White in Santa Clara province, and her husband, Yusmani Rafael Álvarez Esmori, were released on bail in April after nearly three months in prison. They faced charges of using violence or intimidation against a state official, who later withdrew the accusation.

Arbitrary Detention

Short-term arbitrary detention continued and reports of short-term incommunicado detentions were frequent.

  • In February, former prisoner of conscience José Daniel Ferrer García was detained and held incommunicado for three days. While detained, he was threatened with imprisonment if he continued dissident activities through the Patriotic Union of Cuba. In April, he was detained again on charges of “public disorder” and released 27 days later on condition that he give up political activism.
  • Ladies in White Niurka Luque Álvarez and Sonia Garro Alfonso, and Sonia’s husband Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, were detained without charge in March. Niurka Luque Álvarez was released in October. Sonia Garro Alfonso and her husband remained in detention at the end of the year, but had not been formally charged.
  • Andrés Carrión Álvarez was arrested for shouting “freedom” and “down with communism” at a mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI. He was released after 16 days in prison. He was detained for five hours three days later and charged with another count of “public disorder”. He was released on condition that he report to the police once a week, and that he did not leave his home municipality without prior authorization or associate with government critics.

The U.S. Embargo against Cuba

In September, the USA renewed the Trading with the Enemy Act, which imposes financial and economic sanctions on Cuba and prohibits US citizens from travelling to and engaging in economic activities with the island. In November, the UN General Assembly adopted, for the 21st consecutive year, a resolution calling on the USA to lift the unilateral embargo.

The WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA and other UN agencies reported on the negative impact of the embargo on the health and wellbeing of Cubans and in particular on marginalized groups. In 2012, Cuba’s health care authority and UN agencies did not have access to medical equipment, medicines and laboratory materials produced under US patents.

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Whispered complaints about U.S.-Cuba academic exchanges go public

Juan O. Tamayo, Miami Herald,  Wed, May. 01, 2013,

Whispered complaints about U.S.-Cuba academic exchanges go public

The U.S. government’s denial of visas to several Cubans invited to an upcoming academic congress has uncorked a string of protests — against Washington, the pro-Castro U.S. academics who allegedly control the conference’s Cuba agenda and the Havana spies who allegedly attend.
Some academics who study Cuba issues have long complained about the island government’s influence on the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), which bills itself as the world’s largest association for the study of the region. But they usually kept their complaints private because Cuba has repeatedly denied access to the island and research materials to any academics who dared criticize the communist government too harshly. Until now.
“The LASA Cuba section has been taken over by supporters of the revolution and it has been thoroughly politicized,” said Ted Henken, a professor of Latin American Studies at Baruch College in New York.
“Those of us who have been in LASA also know that within the Cuban ‘delegation’ there are always as many ‘policemen’ as in Coppelia on a Saturday night,” Cuban sociologist Haroldo Dilla wrote in an online column. He referred to Havana’s famous Coppelia ice cream parlor.
Asked about the criticism, LASA President Evelyne Huber said the Cuba section “is open to all LASA members, and LASA itself is open to all scholars and other professionals interested in Latin America. Nobody is excluded from membership based on their political opinions.”
“I do not know what qualifies a scholar as a ‘supporter of the Cuban government’ … and whether the elected leaders of the section would fall into that category. Most scholars who deal with Cuba that I know are acutely aware of both the strengths and weaknesses, or achievements and shortcomings of the Cuban government,” added Huber, head of the political science department at the University of North Carolina.
Cuba section co-chairman Sheryl Lutjens, director of the Women’s Studies Program at California State University San Marcos, did not reply to requests for comments. Her co-chairman is Jorge Mario Sanchez, a professor at the University of Havana.
All country sections are co-headed by members from the U.S. and the foreign country. LASA, with 7,000 members from around the world, is based at the University of Pittsburgh.
Henken and Dilla’s comments were triggered by reports that the U.S. State Department had denied visas to several Cubans invited to attend LASA’s annual congress May 29-June 1 in Washington, D.C.
Three of them were identified as Elaine Díaz Rodríguez, a journalist and University of Havana professor, and young bloggers Isbel Díaz Torres and Dimitri Prieto Samsónov. Elaine Díaz’s visa was later approved. The U.S. visas could have been denied for a broad range of issues, from concerns that the academics would defect and stay in the United States to any criminal records.
The trio should be allowed to participate in the LASA conference because they “are known for their critical positions in the face of specific aspects of the Cuban reality,” Dilla wrote in an April 15 column published on the website CubaEncuentro.
Henken, a LASA member who also heads the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE), argued that the visa denials are “a lost opportunity for the U.S. to hear critical and authentic voices from inside Cuba.”
But while academic freedom and exchanges are always desirable, both men argued, U.S.-Cuba academic relations are marred by a lack of reciprocity — and worse.
Henken noted that Omar Everleny Perez, a young economist in Cuba who has criticized some of the Raúl Castro government’s economic reforms and was scheduled to sit on a LASA panel, will not be allowed to travel to Washington by his own university.
And while Baruch College sent nine students to Cuba in January, Havana never answered Henken’s request to accompany them, he said. Henken visited Cuba several times for his research until 2011, when he interviewed several bloggers, including some critical of the government. As he left the country, he wrote, State Security officials told him, “This will be your last time.”
Dilla, who now teaches in the Dominican Republic, said that Cuba also does not allow some exile academics like himself to return to the island to attend conferences, to publish their work in the island’s periodicals or to teach in its universities.
One LASA member who presented a paper at an ASCE conference in Miami last year admitted she toned her criticisms of Havana in the printed version of the paper, compared with her verbal remarks, out of fear that Cuban officials would read her paper and block her annual research trips to Cuba.
“LASA’s Cuba section basically has been taken over by the Cubans, the government … and we keep quiet so we can get or continue to have access to Cuba,” said the researcher, who asked for anonymity for the same reasons.
While the U.S. visa-granting process for academics “has its problems of politicization, bureaucracy and arbitrarity,” Henken said, the Cuban government’s “systematic mockery of academic freedom and freedom of movement is much more condemnable.”
There’s been no indication of the size of the Cuban delegation to the LASA congress next month in Washington. But in 2003 the Bush administration denied visas to the entire Cuban mission — reportedly 75 people.
Dilla, who attended two LASA conferences before he left Cuba in 2000, wrote that the association should push the State Department to issue visas to Cuban academics who apply but added that he wanted “to point out a couple of details.”
While highly respected Cuban academics attend the LASA conferences, he said, the island’s delegations always include intelligence officials and collaborators.
“Some are on the payroll of Línea and A,” he added, referring to the Havana street address of the Interior Ministry’s Intelligence Directorate. “Others are guardians of the ideological agencies, some active and some retired … but all of them, and above all, [are] people who carry out duties that have little to do with the free academic debate.”
Former Cuban intelligence official Orlando Brito Pestana, who defected in 2002 and now lives in South Florida, has said that he attended a LASA conference in Canada around 1991 with accreditation from the Cuba Foreign Ministry. His job, he said, was to spot pro-Castro academics attending the conference and monitor Cuban academics who might have been planning to defect.
“They can be spotted at each congress, sucking up the LASA budget, coercing the true academics and turning the Cuba Task Force into a tangled and opaque extension of the Ideological Department of the Communist Party of Cuba,” Dilla said.
Cubans going to the LASA conferences are also subjected, before they travel, to nearly two weeks of briefings by the Ideological Department on issues such as the economy and human rights, Dilla added.

 

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Reporters Without Borders: “CELAC presidency means Cuba must guarantee basic freedoms”

Published on Monday 11 February 2013. Press Release

President Raúl Castro Ruz

Head of Cuba’s Council of State

Chairman of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)

Dear President Castro,

When you were sworn in as chairman of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) for one year at the end of the recent CELAC summit in the Chilean capital of Santiago, you undertook to act “with total respect for international law, the United Nations charter and the fundamental principles governing relations between countries.” In your 28 January speech, you also declared your intention to reject “interference, aggression, threats and use of force” and to promote “dialogue.”

Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, hopes that these undertakings will quickly be given concrete expression in your own country. Cuba’s legitimate desire to participate in the process of regional integration and the desire for openness seen in certain reforms currently under way need to be accompanied by long-awaited progress in respect for fundamental freedoms

The migration law reform that took effect on 14 January is a major step forward. It means that Cubans who want to travel abroad no longer need an exit permit and are guaranteed the right to return. It must be applied to all citizens without distinction. The blogger Yoani Sánchez, who has obtained a passport, must be allowed to return at the end of the regional trip she plans to begin soon. The door should also be open for all the journalists and dissidents who want to come back after being forced into exile, and for all those in Cuba who would now like to travel. The dialogue you seek makes this promise imperative.

Releases pending

This dialogue will only be possible if Cuba stops cracking down on citizens “guilty” of providing domestic news coverage that is not controlled by the state. The authorities must abolish this control at once, recognize diverse news reporting and release all those who have been unjustly imprisoned. Your stated desire to comply with international law and the UN charter means that your government must now urgently ratify the two UN conventions on civil and political rights that it signed in 2008. And several dramatic situations can be resolved without waiting a moment longer.

Hablemos Press reporter Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who has been held for nearly five months, is facing a possible three-year jail term for “insulting the head of state.” In fact, this independent journalist is being punished for publishing information about cholera and dengue epidemics that was eventually confirmed by the government.

Luis Antonio Torres, a journalist employed by the state-owned daily Granma, was sentenced to 14 years in prison in July 2012 on unsubstantiated spying charges after reporting information of public interest about the negative consequences of certain infrastructural projects. Is talking about embarrassing facts tantamount to conspiracy against the state?

We are similarly concerned about Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, a recognized writer and intellectual and winner of various prizes, who was sentenced to five years in prison on 8 December on trumped-up charges of “home violation” and “injuries” after a trial with bribed witnesses. All he did was criticize your government on his blog. He could be arrested to begin serving his sentence at any moment.

Finally, Reporters Without Borders, has learned that the independent journalist Héctor Julio Cedeño was arrested in Havana on 5 February just for photographing state inspectors harassing street vendors, and that he is still being held. Does this kind of obstruction and persecution really help the critical debate you advocate?

Internet still held up despite ALBA-1

Information is needed to underpin the exchange of ideas and opinions that makes a society live and evolve. This is why Internet progress should benefit all Cubans. The ALBA-1 submarine cable linking Cuba to Venezuela, which recently came into service, now makes it possible to overcome the limitations on Internet connections.

You have often blamed these limitations on the impossibility of using other cables because of the embargo of Cuba that the United States has imposed since 1962, an embargo whose lifting we have repeatedly requested. Our position on this is unchanged. The ALBA-1 cable must now be used for all Cubans to have unimpeded access to the Internet.

We thank you in advance for the attention you give to this letter.

Sincerely,

Christophe Deloire

Reporters Without Borders secretary-general

Photo from Prensa Latina; Raul Defending  Liberty with CELAC

Sebastian Pinera, President of Chile, handing over to Raul

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