Tag Archives: Dissidents

Reporters Without Borders: CUBA, CONTINUING ORDEAL FOR INDEPENDENT MEDIA

May 3, 2017.

Original Report here: https://rsf.org/en/ranking

A self-styled socialist republic with a single party, Cuba continues to be Latin America’s worst media freedom violator year after year. Fidel Castro’s death in 2016 effectively changed nothing. The Castro family, which has ruled since 1959, maintains an almost total media monopoly and tolerates no independent reporting.

Arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, threats, smear campaigns, confiscation of equipment, and closure of websites are the most common forms of harassment. These practices are ubiquitous and are buttressed by an arsenal of restrictive laws. Unless forced to flee the island to protect themselves or to keep working, the few independent bloggers and journalists must cope with drastic restrictions on Internet access.

December 2, 2016

FIDEL CASTRO’S HERITAGE: FLAGRANT MEDIA FREEDOM VIOLATIONS

Castro has been hailed as one of the leading figures of the 20th century and father of the Cuban people in many of the thousands of messages that followed the announcement of his death. But behind the revolutionary’s romantic image lay one of the world’s worst press freedom predators. The persecution of dissidents was one of the distinguishing features of his 49 years in power, and constitutes the harshest aspect of his heritage.

The current situation in Cuba speaks to this. Cuba continues to be one of the worst countries in Latin America for media freedom and ranks 171st out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. Fidel Castro’s brother Raúl, who replaced him in 2007, is now also on RSF’s press freedom predator list.

Cuba’s constitution permits only state-controlled media outlets. Independent news agencies and bloggers who try to dispute the state’s monopoly of news and information are subjected to intimidation, arbitrary arrest and draconian censorship.

As a result, independent news agencies have often had no choice but to go into exile and post their news reports online from abroad. This is far from ideal because Internet access within Cuba is still very problematic (only 5% of households have internet access).

Finally, with two journalists currently jailed, Cuba continues to be one of the few western hemisphere countries where reporters can still be found behind bars. Venezuela and Panama are the other two.

But the situation was much worse under Fidel Castro himself. The father of the Cuban revolution imposed a climate of censorship and used often violent methods to prevent the circulation of any news and information at variance with that provided by the state media.

The persecution peaked in 2003. In March of that year, the authorities arrested more than 75 dissidents including 27 journalists, who were given summary trials and sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison for talking about democracy in Cuba.

They included RSF’s then correspondent, Ricardo González Alfonso, who ended up spending seven years in prison. There were several waves of arrests during this period, dubbed the “Black Spring.” Unauthorized journalists were targeted and accused of collaborating with the United States if their reporting referred to Cuba’s dissidents, human rights violations or the everyday lives of Cubans.

The persecution continued during the ensuing years and in 2007, when Fidel Castro was about to hand over to his brother, Cuba was the world’s second biggest prison for journalists, with a total of 25 held. Prison conditions were appalling and torture was often reported by the families of Cuba’s detained journalists and dissidents.

Many different methods were deployed against Cuba’s independent news providers including arbitrary arrests, beatings and phone tapping. But permanent censorship was one of the constants of the Castro years, both before and after the Black Spring.

Ever since its creation in 1985, RSF has constantly denounced these abuses, using awareness campaigns, protests and international mobilization. Several of our contributors and correspondents have been threatened or imprisoned. They include Roberto Guerra Pérez, who was sentenced to two years in prison in 2005 on a charge of disturbing public order and was released in 2007.

Guerra bravely continued his fight for media freedom, launching an independent news agency called Hablemos Press in 2009. But the Cuban police harassed him and his reporters and repeatedly prevented them from working. After receiving anonymous death threats, he had no choice but to go into exile in October 2016 in order to ensure his and his family’s safety.

The battle waged by RSF and many other local and international NGOs must go on so that exile is one day no longer inevitable. But for the time being, the day-to-day existence of Cuba’s journalists is still marked by fear and self-censorship.

Cuba’s journalists currrently fear that the father of the revolution’s death will be accompanied by a new crackdown. This must not be allowed to happen. Instead, it must open the way to a new era of pluralism and freedom of opinion.

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THE CUBA CAMPAIGN TO DIMINISH OBAMA’S VISIT

May 18, 2016 7:14 PM

Miami Herald: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/article78499207.html#storylink=cpy

By Franco Ordoñez

Since President Barack Obama left Cuba, the Castro government has carried out a campaign to diminish the importance of the historic visit, according to Cuban human rights activists and U.S. officials.

Obama’s trip to Havana in March – part of ongoing efforts to normalize relations with Cuba –made him the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island in nearly 90 years. Activist Antonio Rodiles described how the Cuban government had launched a media push criticizing the U.S. government and praising communist leadership.

“They were trying to encapsulate – to close or create a bubble – around the visit. And they started to talk about the communist congress party. A lot of articles attacked the president’s position,” Rodiles said Wednesday during a panel discussion in Washington.

The dissident leader said, however, that Obama’s message still had gotten through to the Cuban people. Rodiles joined former Ambassador Roger Noriega, the former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs at the State Department, for a discussion on human rights in Cuba at the American Enterprise Institute research center in Washington.

Rodiles described the situation in Cuba as a fight over the public space in that country. And he doesn’t think Obama demanded enough on human rights, allowing the Cuban government to give the “illusion” of change while it works to transition power to a younger generation of Castros.

“This is something crucial for me and many people who are working on this, to show to the whole international community, to show to the Cuban people, to show to everybody that if the Castro family is there, nothing is going to change,” Rodiles said.

Since embarking on cozier relations with Cuban leader Raúl Castro last year, the Obama administration has been eliminating stiff regulations on travel and commerce. It has expanded opportunities for Americans to visit the island, but the administration has been criticized for not doing enough to fight human rights.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a group that tracks human rights and political repression in Cuba, reported more than 8,600 politically motivated detentions in 2015, a 315 percent increase from five years ago. In the first two months of this year, there had already been more than 2,500 arrests.

Rodiles said more people were willing to speak out about their frustrations as they saw an opening for change, but he said it had also given the Cuban government a sense of legitimacy.

It’s important to keep the focus on Cuba while Obama remains in office, Noriega said. Obama placed a bet that this opening will bring about change. Noriega, who has raised concerns about the opening of relations, said momentum was beginning to slow as multinationals reported that there was little investment opportunity.

He pushed Obama to focus more on human rights:

“You can’t separate economic rights and political freedoms, because the pillar of both of them is the rule of law. If you don’t have the rule of law, you’re not going to be able to create the economy they need.”

Rodiles praised parts of the president’s visit. He thanked Obama for spending so much time with opposition leaders. The president’s speech, he said, was the first time in 60 years for many Cubans to hear someone talk about human freedoms.

But he said the United States needed to decide who really were its friends:

“The people are pushing and facing the Cuban regime. We’re the friends of the democracy world. And we’re taking the risk for that. We need your support.”

z rodilesAntonio Rodiles

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BETWEEN REFORMS AND REPRESSION, CAN CUBA’S NEW FORCES OF CHANGE SUCCEED?

Ted A. Henken and Armando Chaguaceda

WORLD POLITICS REVIEW, | Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Original Article Here: Henken & Chaguaceda, Between Reforms and Repression Can Cubas New Forces of Change Succeed – WPR –

z1 z2

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UN ENCUENTRO CON BARACK OBAMA

Miriam Celaya, La Habana | Marzo 23, 2016, 14yMedio

Original article: Encuentro

Miriam Celaya’s account of Obama’s meeting with independent analysts, journalists, and activists.

Seguramente, este martes 22 de marzo de 2016 resultó una jornada memorable para los 13 representantes de una parte de la sociedad civil independiente que tuvimos la oportunidad de reunirnos con el presidente Barack Obama en la embajada de EE UU en La Habana.

Durante los días anteriores, se nos había invitado a participar en una reunión “de alto nivel”, en el marco de la visita del presidente estadounidense a la Isla, y ya en la propia embajada se confirmó lo que todos esperábamos: Obama se encontraría con nosotros a puertas cerradas, lejos de los micrófonos y cámaras de la prensa, que solo estuvo presente para una sesión de fotografías, instantes antes de que comenzara el intercambio off the record entre el presidente y los invitados cubanos.

Estuvieron presentes también otros altos funcionarios estadounidenses, que no intervinieron en el diálogo entre Obama y los activistas y periodistas independientes cubanos.

A lo largo de una hora y 40 minutos se produjo el encuentro, donde todos los invitados tuvimos la ocasión de expresar criterios diversos sobre cuestiones relacionadas con la nueva política de diálogo y acercamiento entre el Gobierno de EE UU y Cuba, así como de sugerir de qué manera consideran algunos activistas que esta nueva relación podría favorecer de una forma más eficaz el avance en materia de empoderamiento de los cubanos y consolidación de la sociedad civil.

Pese a las diferentes posturas y proyectos allí representados por los cubanos, la gran mayoría se manifestó abiertamente a favor de la política de acercamiento y diálogo iniciada por el presidente Obama

Pese a las diferentes posturas y proyectos allí representados por los cubanos, la gran mayoría se manifestó abiertamente a favor de la política de acercamiento y diálogo iniciada por el presidente Obama desde diciembre de 2014. Sin embargo –y desmintiendo lo que pregona el discurso gubernamental en sus campañas difamatorias contra la disidencia interna–, ninguno de los activistas solicitó algún tipo de financiamiento ni apoyo material para su proyecto.

Obama, por su parte, hizo gala de buen talante, inteligencia, sensibilidad y capacidad para escuchar a todos, a pesar de que varios activistas se extendieron en sus presentaciones, lo que limitó la posibilidad de intercambiar más con el mandatario estadounidense, como deseaban muchos de nosotros. No obstante, las intervenciones de éste, en su estilo franco y utilizando su habitual lenguaje directo y alejado de grandilocuencias innecesarias, constituyeron una verdadera lección de política que no dejó lugar a dudas sobre su seguridad en estar transitando el camino correcto.

Esta reunión demuestra la voluntad del Gobierno estadounidense de mantener un canal de comunicación abierto con todos los interlocutores de la sociedad cubana, con independencia de sus ideas políticas, sus ideologías, credos y programas

Obviamente, siempre queda mucho por decir en este tipo de encuentros, pero de cualquier manera esta reunión demuestra la voluntad del Gobierno estadounidense de mantener –como ha sido tradición y práctica política hasta hoy– un canal de comunicación abierto con todos los interlocutores de la sociedad cubana, con independencia de sus ideas políticas, sus ideologías, credos y programas. Esta postura no contradice la importancia de continuar el actual diálogo oficial con las autoridades cubanas y deberían imitarla los gobiernos y funcionarios de todas las sociedades democráticas del mundo, siempre dispuestos a ignorar a la disidencia y a negar el papel que le corresponde en el proceso de cambios que ha comenzado a operarse en Cuba.

Obama honró a los activistas de la sociedad civil independiente al dedicarnos una parte generosa de su tiempo en su breve paso por la Isla y mostró un respeto absoluto por los cubanos, por nuestra soberanía y por los proyectos de los luchadores pro-democracia. Una idea suya resume lo esencial de su política: el futuro de Cuba y la construcción de la sociedad democrática corresponden solamente a los cubanos de la Isla y de la diáspora.

En lo personal, este encuentro con Obama me dejó grabada la impresión del hombre sencillo que es, de su inteligencia extraordinaria y de su conocimiento de la historia de Cuba y de las relaciones entre nuestros dos países. Un hombre grande, cuyo nombre quedará definitivamente relacionado con el proceso de transición cubana, tal como lo conocerán las futuras generaciones de hijos de esta Isla.

z1Miriam Celaya and Barack Obama

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UNUSUAL DISSENT ERUPTS INSIDE CUBAN COMMUNIST PARTY

By Andrea Rodriguez and Michael Weissenstein
Associated Press, Mar 30, 2016

Original article: Dissent inside the Party

HAVANA (AP) — Days after President Barack Obama’s historic visit, the leaders of Cuba’s Communist Party are under highly unusual public criticism from their own ranks for imposing new levels of secrecy on the future of social and economic reforms.

After months of simmering discontent, complaints among party members have become so heated that its official newspaper, Granma, addressed them in a lengthy front-page article Monday. It said the public dissatisfaction over the lack of open discussion before the upcoming Communist Party congress next month is “a sign of the democracy and public participation that are intrinsic characteristics of the socialism that we’re constructing.”

The article did little to calm many party members, some of whom are calling for the gathering to be postponed to allow public debate about the government’s plans to continue market-oriented reforms for Cuba’s centrally controlled economy.

“The base of the party is angry, and rightly so,” party member and noted intellectual Esteban Morales wrote in a blog post published before Obama’s visit. “We’ve gone backward in terms of democracy in the party, because we’ve forgotten about the base, those who are fighting and confronting our problems on a daily basis.”

Across the country, Cuba’s ruling party is facing stiff challenges as it tries to govern an increasingly cynical and disenchanted population.

Struggling to feed their families with state salaries around $25 a month, many ordinary Cubans see their government as infuriatingly inefficient and unresponsive to the needs of average people. The open anger among prominent party members in the middle of sweeping socio-economic reforms and normalization with the United States hints at a deeper crisis of credibility for the party that has controlled virtually every aspect of public life in Cuba for more than a half century.

The article in Granma appeared less than a week after Obama won an enthusiastic response from many ordinary Cubans by calling for both an end to Cold War hostility and for more political and economic freedom on the island. The unsigned article shared the front page with Fidel Castro’s sharply worded response to Obama, in which the 89-year-old father of Cuba’s socialist system said, “My modest suggestion is that he reflect and doesn’t try to develop theories about Cuban politics.”

Many Cubans are skeptical of free-market capitalism, wary of American power and cannot envision a society without the free health care and education put in place by the 1959 revolution. Party member Francisco Rodriguez, a gay activist and journalist for a state newspaper, said Obama’s nationally televised speech in Old Havana, his news conference with 84-year-old President Raul Castro and a presidential forum with Cuban entrepreneurs represented a sort of “capitalist evangelizing” that many party members dislike.

Rodriguez told The Associated Press that Obama’s well-received addresses to the Cuban people had nonetheless increased pressure on the 700,000-member Communist Party to forge a more unified and credible vision of the future.

“Obama’s visit requires us, going forward, to work on debating and defending our social consensus about the revolution,” Rodriguez said.

While Cuba’s non-elected leaders maintain tight control of the party and the broader system, the last party congress in 2011 was preceded by months of vigorous debate at party meetings about detailed documents laying out reforms that have shrunk the state bureaucracy and allowed a half million Cubans to start work in the private sector.

In the run-up to the party congress scheduled to begin April 16, no documents have been made public, no debate has taken place and many of the party’s best-known members remain in the dark about the next phase of Cuba’s reforms. Granma said 1,000 high-ranking party members have been reviewing key documents.

“My dissatisfaction is rooted in the lack of discussion of the central documents, secret to this day, as much among the organizations of the party base as the rest of the population,” Rodriguez wrote in an open letter Sunday to Raul Castro, who is also the top Communist Party leader.

Under Castro’s guidance, the 2011 party congress helped loosen state control of Cubans’ economic options and some personal freedoms, moving the country toward more self-employment, greater freedom to travel and greater ability to sell personal cars and real estate. The Granma article argued that the months of debate before the approval of those reforms made a new round of public discussion unnecessary. It also acknowledged that only 21 percent of the reforms had been completed as planned.

The April 16-19 party congress “will allow us to define with greater precision the path that we must follow in order for our nation, sovereign and truly independent since Jan. 1, 1959, to construct a prosperous and sustainable socialism,” the article said.

Rodriguez, who works closely with Castro’s daughter Mariela, the director of the national Center for Sexual Education, said the Granma piece was unsatisfactory. He called for the Seventh Party Congress to be delayed, saying many fellow party members share his point of view.

In the days after the Granma article appeared about two dozen people, many identifying themselves as party members, posted lengthy comments on the paper’s government-moderated website that criticized the article and the secrecy surrounding the upcoming party congress, which is widely seen as helping mark the transition of power from the aging men who led Cuba’s revolution to a younger generation.

“It is one of the last congresses directed by the historic generation,” wrote one poster identifying himself as Leandro. “This is, I think, a bad precedent for future leaders, who will feel like they have the right to have party congresses without popular participation.”

Dissent? What dissent?

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HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, 2016 WORLD REPORT 2015: CUBA

Original Report:  World Report 2016,  Cuba

zzzzzzzzzzCuban security personnel detain a member of the Ladies in White group after their weekly anti-government protest march, in Havana, on September 13, 2015.  Human Rights Watch, World Report: Cuba  2016

The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public criticism. It now relies less on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, but short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others have increased dramatically in recent years. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.

In December 2014, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would ease restrictions on travel and commerce and normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. In exchange, the Cuban government released 53 political prisoners and committed to allow visits by international human rights monitors. The two governments restored diplomatic relations in July 2015.

Arbitrary Detention and Short-Term Imprisonment

The government continues to rely on arbitrary detentions to harass and intimidate people who exercise their fundamental rights. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent human rights group that the government views as illegal, received more than 6,200 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through October 2015. While this represented a decrease from the number of detentions during the same 10-month period in 2014, it was still significantly higher than the number of yearly detentions prior to 2012.

Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify the detention of critics. In some cases, detainees are released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors can use in subsequent criminal trials to show a pattern of delinquent behavior.  Detention is often used preemptively to prevent people from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours or days. Members of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco)—a group founded by the wives, mothers, and daughters of political prisoners and which the government considers illegal—are routinely harassed, roughed up, and detained before or after they attend Sunday mass.

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, a blogger and videographer who often covers the Sunday demonstrations of the Ladies in White, wrote that police arbitrarily detained him on June 7 and drove him 30 miles from Havana, where they took him from the car at gunpoint, made him kneel on the grass, and put the gun to his neck, telling him he was “on notice” to stay away from the demonstrations.

The artist Tania Bruguera was arrested on December 30, 2014, hours before her planned performance art piece in Havana’s Revolution Square, in which she was to have invited passersby to walk up to a podium and express themselves at a microphone for one minute. Security officials confiscated her passport and computer. Bruguera was released the following day but was detained and released twice more during the next two days. Cuban dissidents and independent journalists who had planned to attend the event—including Reinaldo Escobar, Eliecer Avila, and Antonio Rodiles—were also arrested on December 30. Bruguera was again detained in May during the 12th Havana Biennial Art Exhibition. She was released the same day.

On August 9, a few days before US Secretary of State John Kerry was to attend a ceremony to mark the opening of the US embassy in Havana, 90 people—including an estimated 50 Ladies in White—were arrested and detained after Sunday mass in the Havana neighborhood of Miramar during a peaceful march against political repression.

During the visit of Pope Francis in September, police detained some 100 to 150 dissidents to prevent them from seeing him. Miriam Leiva, a freelance journalist and blogger and a founder of the Ladies in White, was invited by the Papal Nuncio in Havana to greet the Pope twice, on September 19 and 20, but was detained for several hours each time, preventing her attendance.

Political Prisoners

Despite the release of the 53 political prisoners in conjunction with the agreement to normalize relations with the US, dozens more remain in Cuban prisons, according to local human rights groups. The government prevents independent human rights groups from accessing its prisons, and the groups believe there are additional political prisoners whose cases they cannot document.

Cubans who criticize the government continue to face the threat of 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.

Graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto,” was arrested in December 2014 and charged with “contempt for authority” for attempting to stage a performance involving two pigs painted with the names “Raul” and “Fidel”—a satire of the current and former heads of state. He was released on October 20.

Freedom of Expression

The government controls virtually all media outlets in Cuba and restricts access to outside information, severely limiting the right to freedom of expression.

A small number of journalists and bloggers who are independent of government media manage to write articles for websites or blogs, or publish tweets. However, the government routinely blocks access within Cuba to these websites, and those who publish information considered critical of the government are subject to smear campaigns and arbitrary arrests, as are artists and academics who demand greater freedoms.  Only a fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of the high cost of, and limited access to, the Internet. In July, Cuba increased Internet access by opening 35 Wi-Fi hot spots in parks and city boulevards nationwide. The US$2-an-hour Wi-Fi connection fee is expensive in a country where the average wage is approximately $20 a month.

Travel Restrictions and Family Separation

Reforms to travel regulations that went into effect in January 2013 eliminated the need for an exit visa to leave the island. Exit visas had previously been used to deny the right to travel to people critical of the government—and to their families. Since then, many people who had previously been denied permission to travel have been able to do so, including human rights defenders and independent bloggers.

Nonetheless, the reforms gave the government broad discretionary powers to restrict the right to travel on the grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest.” Such measures have allowed the authorities to deny exit to people who express dissent. For example, José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), was denied the right to travel abroad in August for “reasons of public interest,” authorities said.

The government restricts the movement of citizens within Cuba through a 1997 law known as Decree 217, which is designed to limit migration to Havana. The decree has been used to prevent dissidents from traveling to Havana to attend meetings and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live there.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded. Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners. Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress, and those 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.  While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in April 2013, it continues to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

Labor Rights

Despite updating its Labor Code in 2014, Cuba continues to violate conventions of the International Labour Organization that it has ratified, specifically regarding freedom of association, collective bargaining, protection of wages and wage payment, and prohibitions on forced labor. While the formation of independent unions is technically allowed by law, in practice Cuba only permits one confederation of state-controlled unions, the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba.

Human Rights Defenders

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

Key International Actors

In January, a month after announcing plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Obama called on the US Congress to lift the economic embargo of Cuba imposed more than four decades ago. The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly called on the United States to end the embargo, most recently in October by a vote of 191 to two.

At time of writing, Cuba had yet to allow visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross or by UN human rights monitors, as stipulated in the December 2014 agreement with the US.

The European Union continues to retain its “Common Position on Cuba,” adopted in 1996, which conditions full EU economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. After a meeting in April 2014 in Havana, EU and Cuban delegates agreed on establishing a road map for “normalizing” relations. A fifth round of negotiations towards an EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement took place in Havana in September 2015, and a sixth round was scheduled for late November.

In November 2013, Cuba was re-elected to a regional position on the UN Human Rights Council, despite its poor human rights record and consistent efforts to undermine important council work. As a member of the council, Cuba has regularly voted to prevent scrutiny of serious human rights abuses around the world, opposing resolutions spotlighting abuses in North Korea, Syria, Iran, and Ukraine. However, Cuba supported a landmark resolution the council adopted in September 2014 to combat violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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CUBA’S 14YMEDIO JOURNALISTS SPEND TWO HOURS WITH THE NEW YORK TIMES’ ERNESTO LONDOÑO

14 y Medio, December 6, 2014

By Yoani Sanchez,   14ymedio, 1 December 2014

Ernesto Londoño, who authored six editorials on Cuba published recently by The New York Times engaged in a friendly conversation on Saturday with a part of the 14ymedio team, in the hotel where he is staying in Havana. Our intention was to interview him, but he told us the norms of his media prohibit his giving interviews without previous consultation. He also declined our proposal to take photos. Instead, he was eager to listen to our opinions in an atmosphere of mutual respect. There were two hours of conversation dedicated to refining, enriching and debating the controversial ideas that the newspaper has addresses in his editorials. The following is a brief synthesis of what was said there, arranged by topics and ascribed to the author of each opinion.

 Journalism

 Yoani Sánchez: Cubans are going to need a great deal of information to avoid falling into the hands of another authoritarianism. In 14ymedio we are including a plurality of voices, for example on the the issue of the embargo. We leave it to the reader to form his own opinion from a variety of information.

 Reinaldo Escobar: The official Cuban press, which is all the press, there are no public media, they are private property of the Communist Party. Now, has there been a change? Yes, there has been a change. Since a few years ago the newspaper Granma has had a weekly section with letters by readers where you find criticism of bureaucrats, things that don’t work or prices at the markets. But look, the emphasis is on the self-employed markets.

So far I have not read a profound criticism of the prices at the convertible peso markets that the Government has, which are abusive. Nor can you talk about the legitimacy of our rulers or the impracticality of the system. Here are two big taboos, and in the third place, the topic of political repression. If they report on a repudiation rally, they show it as something spontaneous on the part of the people, without telling how the political police were behind it, organizing it all.

 Miriam Celaya: There are changes indeed. The problem is that there are real and nominal changes, and these changes are generally nominal. Now everyone in Cuba can legally stay in a hotel, which before was forbidden. They never explained why it was forbidden before. But Cubans cannot really afford the luxury of a hotel stay, with wages being what they are; nor can they buy a car, a house, or travel. The problem with the reforms is that they are unrealistic for the vast majority of Cubans. They are a government investment in order to buy time.

 There are two of those reforms that are particularly harmful and discriminatory for Cubans. One is the foreign investment law, which is explicitly for foreign investors and it does not allow Cubans to invest; and the other is a new Labor Code which does not acknowledge autonomy, the right to strike, and which spells out explicitly that Cuban workers cannot freely enter into contracts with potential companies investing in Cuba, which constitutes a restraint and a brake.

 Víctor Ariel González: Yes, things are changing, but we ask ourselves if really those changes offer a brighter horizon and why people keep leaving, even more are going than before.

Continue reading: 14ymedioy 2016

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HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: WORLD REPORT 2015: CUBA

Original here:  HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH 2015: CUBA

The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and discourage public criticism. While in recent years it has relied less on long-term prison sentences to punish its critics, short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and other critics have increased dramatically. Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.

In December 2014, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease restrictions on travel and commerce with the island in exchange for several concessions by the Cuban government, including a commitment to release 53 political prisoners and to allow visits by international human rights monitors.

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 (CCDHRN)—an independent human rights group the government views as illegal—received over 7,188 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through August 2014, a sharp increase from approximately 2,900 in 2013 and 1,100 in 2010 during the same time period.

Security officers virtually never present arrest orders to justify the detention of critics and threaten them with criminal sentences if they continue to participate in “counterrevolutionary” activities. In some cases, detainees are released after receiving official warnings, which prosecutors can then use in subsequent 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.

Detention is often used preemptively to prevent individuals from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics. In the days leading up to the summit meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), for example, which took place in Havana on January 28 and 29, 2014, at least 40 people were arbitrarily detained, and 5 held under house arrest until the conference had ended, according to the CCDHRN.

Members of 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—are routinely detained before or after they attend Sunday mass. On May 4, for example, more than 80 women were detained before attending mass throughout the island. On July 13, 129 members of the group were detained as they prepared to attend commemorative ceremonies honoring Cubans who died attempting to leave the island in 1994.

Detainees are often beaten, threatened, and held incommunicado for hours and even days. The former political prisoner Guillermo Fariñas, who was placed under house arrest for the duration of the CELAC conference and then arrested when he attempted to leave home, reported suffering two broken ribs and other injuries as a result of a beating he received while in detention. Yilenni Aguilera Santos, a member of the Damas de Blanco movement in Holguín, reported suffering a miscarriage when security agents subjected her to a severe beating after arresting her on her way to mass on June 22.

Political Prisoners

Even after the conditional release of dozens of political prisoners in December 2014, dozens more remain in Cuban prisons according to local human rights groups. These groups 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.

Cubans who criticize the government continue to face the threat of 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.

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 very small fraction of Cubans are able to read independent websites and blogs because of the high cost of, and limited access to, the Internet. While people in cities like Havana, Santiago de Cuba, or Santa Clara have access to the Internet, people in more rural areas are not able to go online.

A May 2013 government decree directed at expanding Internet access stipulates that the Internet cannot be used for activities that undermine “public security, the integrity, the economy, independence, and national security” of Cuba—broadly worded conditions that could be used against 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.

In May 2014, blogger Yoani Sanchez launched the website 14ymedio, Cuba’s first independent online newspaper. Within hours, the site was hacked, and visitors were directed to a page dedicated to scathing criticisms of Sanchez. The site was restored the following day, but blocked again several days later, and has remained inaccessible to Internet users within Cuba ever since.

In May 2013, 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.

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. Since then, many people who had been previously denied permission to travel have been able to do so, including human rights defenders and independent bloggers.

Nonetheless, the reform included very broad discretionary powers that allow the government to restrict the right to travel on the grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest,” allowing the authorities to deny exit to people who express dissent. For example, authorities have repeatedly denied Manuel Cuesta Morúa the right to travel abroad since he attempted to organize a parallel summit to the CELAC conference in January 2014.

The government also continues to arbitrarily deny Cubans living abroad the right to visit the island. In August 2013, 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 from traveling there to attend meetings and to harass dissidents from other parts of Cuba who live in the capital.

Prison Conditions

Prisons are overcrowded, and unhygienic and unhealthy conditions lead to extensive malnutrition and illness. Prisoners are forced to work 12-hour days and punished if they do not meet production quotas, according to former political prisoners. Inmates have no effective complaint mechanism to seek redress, and those 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.

While the government allowed select members of the foreign press to conduct controlled visits to a handful of prisons in April 2013, it continues to deny international human rights groups and independent Cuban organizations access to its prisons.

Human Rights Defenders

The Cuban government still 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.

Key International Actors

President Obama announced in December 2014 that the US government would normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease restrictions on travel and commerce with the island. In exchange, the Cuban government committed itself to—among other things— releasing 53 political prisoners and allowing visits to the island by the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN human rights monitors.

President Obama also called on the US Congress to lift the economic embargo on Cuba. For more than half a century, the embargo has imposed indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people and has done nothing to improve the country’s human rights record. The UN General Assembly has repeatedly called for an end to the US embargo on Cuba. In October 2014, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the embargo.

The European Union (EU) continues to retain its “Common Position” on Cuba, adopted in 1996, which conditions full EU economic cooperation with Cuba on the country’s transition to a pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. However, after a meeting in April 2014 in Havana, European Union and Cuban delegates agreed on establishing a road map for “normalizing” relations. EU officials indicated that concerns about civil liberties and democratic participation would continue to influence EU policy towards Cuba.

At the Organization of American States General Assembly in June, governments throughout the region called for the attendance of Cuba at the next Summit of the Americas in Panama in 2015.

In November 2013, Cuba was re-elected to a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), defeating Uruguay for a regional position despite its poor human rights record and its consistent efforts to undermine important council work. As a UNHRC member, Cuba regularly voted to prevent scrutiny of serious human rights situations around the world, opposing resolutions spotlighting abuses in North Korea, Syria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Belarus, and Ukraine. Cuba, however, supported the landmark resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity adopted by the council in September 2014.

The text of the online 2015 World Report Cuba chapter has been updated from the print version to take into account events in late 2014.

CUBA-RIGHTS/ 

Cuban security personnel detain a member of the Ladies in White group during a protest on International Human Rights Day, in Havana on December 10, 2014. © 2014 Reuters na on December 10, 2014. © 2014 Reuters

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TANIA BRUGUERA LEAVES UNEAC AND RETURNS HER NATIONAL CULTURE AWARD

14ymedio, Havana | Enero 06, 2015

Original here: Tania Bruguera

This Monday, the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera returned the National Culture Award (Distinción por la Cultura Nacional) she received in 2002, and decided to renounce her membership in the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC).

“I can not receive recognition from, nor be part of, an institution that speaks for all but only through the presidency of the organization. Cultural institutions which, instead of opening a dialogue and a space for aesthetic analysis criminalize and judge, reduce the response to a work to generating fear of the work, and on top of it, distance themselves from it,” says the letter addressed to Cuba’s Deputy Minister of Culture, Fernando Rojas, and delivered Monday to the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture.

Bruguera was released last Friday after her attempt to stage a ‘performance’ in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, which would have given one minute at the microphone to any citizen who participated. The artist could not reach the Plaza because she was arrested before leaving home and twice more in the following days. “To peacefully present yourself and speak for one minute is an example of political art and of the function of art in society. It is what is called ‘Art Made for a Specific Political Moment,’ which can be translated as a work undertaken for a specific political context and situation,” she added.

Bruguera-TEDGlobal-James-Duncan-Davidson_CYMIMA20150105_0017_13The text of the letter:

Compañero Fernando Rojas Vice Minister of Culture Republic of Cuba

Upon my return from  Documenta11, on 27 November 2002 the Ministry of Culture gave me, along with other young artists, the National Culture Award ( Distinción por la Cultura Nacional). For years I did not give importance to this event because it did not change anything in my life or in my thinking. In fact, I didn’t remember if I had saved it, or if it had been lost. After recent events, this Award has taken on another meaning for me.

Today I return the Award to the Ministry of Culture, I put it in the hands of the vice minister with whom I previously have had ideological discussions about censorship. Today I also renounce my membership in the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC). I can not receive recognition from, nor be part of, an institution that speaks for all but only through the presidency of the organization. Cultural institutions which, instead of opening a dialogue and a space for aesthetic analysis criminalize and judge, reduce the response to a work to generating fear of the work, and on top of it, distance themselves from it.

I have heard many times in Cuba that this is not the appropriate time to criticize or to use a metaphor or to stage a work. Many times I have censored myself in the face of these words that magically cast blame on a doubt or an opinion. Today I know that the appropriate time for an artist is ALWAYS, but especially when the ways of evaluating the social or the human are suspended, but the appropriate moment cannot be a government directive because this makes it propaganda and not art. The artist would be in service to a government and not to a society. Opinion and art cannot exist only when they are permitted by the institution. I believe that it was the appropriate moment to make a work of art because all the decisions about what Cuba is going to be are still not implemented. There is still hope, many believe that undefined spaces exist within which all of we Cubans could be a part.

The changes in Cuba cannot be real if the decision comes from above and is reported and must be accepted. The changes in Cuba cannot be real if a different opinion is given when the government invites it. The changes in Cuba cannot be real if Cubans are afraid to know certain words, for example Human Rights. The changes in Cuba cannot be real if Cubans fear that having an opinion will leave them without a job. The changes in Cuba cannot be real if what is of interest to the government about Cubans is their money and not their ideas.

How sad is a government that sees a threat to the state in allowing regular Cubans one minute in which they can say what they think without government control! How sad is a government that jails the audience of a work of art!

Un abrazo,

Tania Bruguera

Havana, 5 January 2015.

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SHIFTING DYNAMICS FOR CUBA’S DISSIDENTS

Leer en español (Read in Spanish) »

New York Times, THE EDITORIAL BOARD, DEC. 27, 2014

The words were scrawled in graffiti on a street near the house of the Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá a few years before his suspicious death in 2012. “In a plaza under siege, dissidence is treasonous.”

Over the decades, Cuba’s authoritarian government has relied on that convenient argument to exert pervasive control over the lives of its citizens and keep opposition movements from gaining enough traction to threaten the state. The message was unmistakable: As long as the United States was intent on toppling the island’s leaders and meddling in the country’s affairs, Cubans, as a matter of national sovereignty, had to close ranks. The era that began this month when President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba announced an end to more than 50 years of enmity between their governments is a watershed moment for Cuba’s diverse and courageous opposition movement.

Under Communist Party rule, Cubans endure the austerity of living under a stagnant, centrally planned economy. Their access to the Internet is severely limited and censored. The island’s official press is wholly subservient to the state. Outside the rigid mechanisms of the party, Cubans have few substantive vehicles to challenge their leaders.

In 1998, at the end of a decade of hunger and deprivation triggered by the collapse of Havana’s longtime patron, the Soviet Union, Mr. Payá undertook an audacious mission. Relying on a Cuban law that ostensibly allowed groups of 10,000 or more eligible voters to propose new laws, Mr. Payá gathered, by some estimates, more than 25,000 signatures from Cubans who endorsed sweeping democratic reforms, including free elections, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and a less-regulated economy.

Osvaldo Paya

Oswaldo Payá

In 2002, Cuba’s National Assembly responded to Mr. Paya’s initiative, known as the Varela Project, by amending the Constitution to make the island’s socialist, one-party system “irrevocable.” The following year, Cuban authorities jailed scores of dissidents and independent journalists during a period of intense repression known as the Black Spring. The crackdown, which took aim at many leaders of Mr. Payá’s movement, largely escaped global attention.

In 2010, the Cuban government agreed to release many political prisoners in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church, on the condition that they move to Spain. Mr. Payá died in a car crash in 2012 in Cuba that many human rights activists suspect was staged by the authorities.

A few of the released prisoners, including José Daniel Ferrer, a fiery lieutenant in Mr. Payá’s movement, refused to leave the island. Mr. Ferrer now leads the Patriotic Union for Cuba, the most visible and outspoken opposition group on the island. In a recent interview in Havana, Mr. Ferrer said his eight years in prison gave him time to reflect on why Cuba’s democratic movements had failed in the past and how they might one day prevail. Historically, he said, Cuban activists have often been seen by their compatriots as hapless victims of an oppressive state. “These people inspire pity, not a desire to follow them,” said Mr. Ferrer, who is based in Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second-largest city. “We’re trying to avoid reaching people with speeches of losers.”

Mr. Ferrer says his goal is not the type of sudden, dramatic overthrow of the Castro government that many Cuban exiles have historically favored. Rather, he said, Cuba’s opposition movement must become sufficiently empowered to get a seat at the table.

“We need to become large enough to force the regime to negotiate,” Mr. Ferrer said, acknowledging that it will take time to get enough Cubans to believe that siding with the opposition is worth the risks. “No one wants to bet on the horse that’s losing the race.”

-josecc81-daniel-ferrer1

José Daniel Ferrer

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