News from Cuba: October – December 2013

Sections: NewsHuman Rights

Highlights:

  • Cuban opposition commemorated the 2nd anniversary of the death of Laura Pollan, founder and leader of the Ladies in White movement. Dozens of women were arrested in Havana.
  • Barack Obama and Raul Castro shook hands at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. The last occasion on which the presidents of the two nations were seen to exchange personal greetings was in 2000, when Bill Clinton met with Fidel Castro.
  • Several events were organized by the Cuban opposition to commemorate the International Day of Human Rights. Repressive measures led to about up to 1,000 short detentions

News

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Commemoration of the Second Anniversary of the Death of Laura Pollan
October 14

Cuban opposition organized various events to commemorate the second anniversary of the death of Laura Pollan, founder of the Ladies in White Movement. They were marked by harassment and arrests of several members of the movement across the country.
“Why can’t they respect our feelings of pain? We just wanted to commemorate the death of Laura, whom we remember as a worthy and brave person that had taught the Ladies in White to wage a peaceful struggle for freedom of political prisoners,” said Berta Soler, current leader of the movement.
The Ladies in White movement already has about 250 female members, 97 of whom are from Havana. “Our organization has significantly grown. There has been an increase in awareness; we are a group of women leading a peaceful fight for freedom of political prisoners and for the respect for human rights,” said Soler.
Laura Pollan died of heart attack at the age of 63 after suffering respiratory failure complicated with dengue and metabolic decompensation as a consequence of diabetes. Her family believe that she died under suspicious circumstances.

End of Dual Currency System in Cuba Announced
October 23

On Tuesday, Raul Castro’s government announced initiation of the process of unification of the two currencies that have been circulating in Cuba for 19 years: the Cuban peso and the convertible peso. The process should not involve any “shock therapy” measures, says the official notice without giving further details.
Since the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Cubans have been using two currencies: the Cuban peso, in which public employees are paid and some basic products and services bought and sold; and the convertible peso (CUC), equivalent to the U.S. dollar, which is the currency used to purchase imported goods and pay for tourism services.
Currency unification is the latest attempt of President Raul Castro to modernize the socialist economic model in Cuba. Other changes include legalization of small private enterprises and reduction of the influence of the State on the country’s economy.
According to economists, the process of unification could take up to 18 months and would lead to depreciation of the CUC and perhaps appreciation of the Cuban peso.

Cuba Closes 3D Cinemas and Prohibits Clothing Resale
November 2

Dozens of private cinema theatres have been closed in Cuba. Also, the government reiterated its intention to impose a ban on the resale of clothing and other goods brought to the country by unofficial means by the end of the year. The reason for the ban is the government’s desire to bring order to the economic reforms undertaken by Raul Castro’s socialist government.
Local media published an official notice confirming the government’s decision to outlaw commercialization of goods imported by private means. Sale of such products shall be permitted only until the end of this year to allow merchants to sell off their stocks. The measure will affect about 20,000 people engaged in such activities.
The governmental decree also suggests that there be “immediate ban” on private 3D cinemas, entertainment facilities and computer games.
Raul Castro, presidential successor to his brother Fidel, has introduced over 300 economic reforms to revive the socialist system existing in Cuba for over half a century. Among them, for example, expansion of the private sector, which now employs more than 442,000 workers, as the official figures show.
In spite of the fact that the measure will affect only less than 5% of the nearly half a million entrepreneurs emerged in the new economic environment, many Cubans are concerned about what will happen with some other reforms.

El Critico in Serious Health Condition
November 5

The political prisoner Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga, Cuban rapper known as El Critico, decided to end his hunger and thirst strike after receiving the government’s pledge to “do justice” in his case, informed the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), opposition movement which he is a member of.
Remon Arzuaga was imprisoned on March 26, 2013, after four days of violent acts perpetrated by the Police in front of his house, which included throwing of dead animals, excrements, asphalt and stones at his house.
He was arrested after dozens of people gathered in front of his house to show their support. UNPACU informed that he received beatings and was sent to a punishment cell. During his stay in prison, he contracted cholera and his health condition was assessed as severe in July 2013.
According to the opposition, State prosecutors charged Remon Arzuaga with a crime against State security and sought an 8-year prison sentence.

Obama Meets Cuban Dissidents in Miami
November 9

Obama’s meeting with Cuban dissidents Guillermo Farinas and Berta Soler generated “positive” feelings among Cuban exiles.
Obama talked about loosening the restrictions imposed in Cuba recently and remarked that the U.S. should develop a “creative” and imaginative approach to its relations with the Cuban government.
The U.S. President expressed his concern about the growing “bias” of Washington towards Cuba, which, as he believes, hinders any possible progress in these matters.
“We’ve started to see changes on the island,” said Obama in his meeting with the Cuban dissidents – the first he has had in the five years of his presidency.
On his arrival to the meeting, the Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas said he believed that the meeting had been organized to show “support” by the White House to the Cuban opposition. Farinas also insinuated that he would entreat Obama not to hold any meetings with the Cuban government “without the presence of the opposition.”
Berta Soler, who came dressed in white, assured the reporters that “the freedom of Cuba depends on Cubans,” and expressed her hopes for the meeting.

Cuban Dissident Guillermo Farinas Criticizes Dreary Situation of Human Rights in Cuba
November 26

The renowned Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, winner of the Sakharov Prize, was received in Prague by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jan Kohout. Farinas spoke about the situation of human rights in Cuba and expressed his thanks to the Czech Republic for its solidarity with the opposition movement in Cuba.
“There has been no improvement in the situation of human rights in Cuba, quite to the contrary. Raul Castro has been using paramilitary measures to terrorize the internal opposition and the Cuban people in general.”
During his visit to the capital of the Czech Republic, Farinas paid tribute to Vaclav Havel, former Czech President and a symbol of the struggle for human rights across the world.
“Vaclav Havel has become a universal symbol of human rights and that’s why I have come to pay tribute to him on behalf of Cuban dissidents.”

135 Buildings Collapse in Havana after Heavy Rains
December 2

The number of buildings that have collapsed in Havana after some heavy rains in the last three days has increased to 135, with the total of 417 evacuated families, informed Juan Montalvo, Vice-President of the Government of the Capital City of Havana.
The downpours began on the last Friday in November and after several hours of raining, authorities already reported that two people died under the ruins of a collapsed building in the municipality of Centro Habana.
The Cuban National Institute for Housing has confirmed that only 61% of over 3 million houses and dwellings available on the island are in good condition. The remaining 39% range from fairly good to poor.

Cuba Proposes “Immediate” Dialogue with the U.S. on Gross and Spies
December 4

Washington demands release of Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence in Havana for having committed a crime against Cuban State security.
Cuba repeated its willingness to establish an “immediate” dialogue with the U.S. government on the cases of Alan Gross, American contractor imprisoned on the island, and four Cuban agents imprisoned in the U.S.A.
However, Havana emphasized that the dialogue should be performed “on a reciprocal basis in order to address Cuban humanitarian concerns for the four Cubans involved in anti-terrorist activities, who have been imprisoned in the U.S.A.” since 1998, said Josefina Vidal, director of the United States Affairs Division at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Cuban officer highlighted that the government “understands U.S. humanitarian concerns over the case of Mr. Gross, nevertheless, it believes that the U.S. government has direct responsibility for the situation which the U.S. citizen and his family are facing, and therefore it should cooperate with its Cuban counterpart to find a solution.”

Barack Obama and Raul Castro Shake Hands at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service
December 10

The President of the United States, Barack Obama, and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, shook hands at the memorial service for the South African leader Nelson Mandela.
The last occasion on which the presidents of the two nations were seen to exchange personal greetings was in 2000, when Bill Clinton met with Fidel Castro. The recent gesture of the two leaders surprised the public since they are known for their opposing views. Also, the two countries have not had any diplomatic relations since the U.S. commercial and economic embargo against Cuba imposed in 1962.
“It’s sad to see Obama offer his hand to a dictator, whose hand is smeared with blood,” pointed Cuban exile organizations. They have also criticized Obama for being “apparently” the one who offered the handshake. “Obama could have perfectly avoided it. Human dignity must be maintained even in politics,” they emphasized.

International Human Rights Day Celebrated by Cuban Activists
December 10

On Tuesday, the independent cultural project known as Estado de Sats (State of Sats) started off its First International Conference on Human Rights and UN Covenants. The event was held under the surveillance of large Police and State Security forces, which tried to stop it from taking place. The Police arrested many dissidents who tried to take part in the conference, which took place at the home of one of the opposition members, Antonio Rodiles.
The Argentinian press also informed about the arrest of two young Argentinians in Havana, who came to Cuba from Buenos Aires to participate in the event.
Opposition sources say that over 20 Ladies in White were arrested in Santiago de Cuba. Other members of the movement were detained in Havana, where they had gathered to hold a peaceful march. Around 200 paramilitary members showed up with banners with slogans against the Ladies in White Movement. The dissidents were driven away in buses and Police vehicles. Other detentions were reported in the west of the country, namely in Pinar del Rio, Matanzas and Santa Clara.

3,000 Cubans Defected From Venezuela in 2013
December 21

Around three thousand Cubans are estimated to defect to the United States after abandoning a mission in Venezuela. It is about 60 percent more than the previous year.
Mostly they were medical workers sent by the Cuban government to participate in various social programs run by the Chavez government.
“Most Cubans fled on account of the low wages they were receiving. Other reasons include delayed payments or excessive workload within various social programs such as Barrio Adentro (Inside the Neighbourhood) or CDI (Integral Diagnostic Centres) run all over the country. Many have complained that their mission rather resembled modern slavery,” one of the refugees said. He revealed that Cuban doctors on the mission receive only 300 out of the 6,000 USD paid to the Cuban State by Venezuela per every professional.

Human Rights

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In the first place, it should be noted that Sonia Garro and Angel Yunier, two political prisoners who have spent months in prison, both remain in jail, awaiting trial, despite months of campaigning and reports by PIN focusing on their cause.

October

The independent news agency Hablemos Press recorded 763 arbitrary detentions.

On October 14, Cuban opposition commemorated the 2nd anniversary of the death of Laura Pollan, founder and leader of the Ladies in White movement. Various events were organized by the Ladies in White all over the country and State authorities gathered large numbers of citizens to carry out acts of repudiation against women who were participating in them. Dozens of women were arrested in Havana.

Also in October, a public hearing was held at the seat of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) within its 147th period of public sessions. Its purpose was to discuss issues involving defenders of human rights in Cuba, in particular members of the Ladies in White movement.

November

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) reported that there were 761 arbitrary detentions in Cuba in November. Most repressive acts against peaceful opposition members were committed in the eastern provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Holguin, in the central provinces of Matanzas and Villa Clara and in the capital of Havana.

In November, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), published a list of prisoners of conscience in Cuba, which contained 87 names as of that month.

An event that occurred in Matanzas in November corroborates the impunity of the Police in some of its actions. A citizen was accused of theft and the Police who came to his home to arrest him shot him seven times while he was trying to flee. The incident has not been investigated so far, nor have the accountable policemen been punished.

December

On December 10, several events and activities were organized by the Cuban opposition to commemorate the International Day of Human Rights. Severe repressive measures were taken all over the island, leading to about up to 1,000 short detentions, according to the figures published by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN).

As part of its Campaign for a Different Cuba and to mark the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the independent cultural organization Estado de Sats (State of Sats) organized the First International Conference on Human Rights and UN Covenants. The event was to take place between 10 and 11 December in Havana but was disrupted by the State Security. Some activists were able to meet under heavy Police surveillance on the first day despite acts of repudiation and blockade of the house. However, on the second day it was no longer possible for most of them to attend the conference as the Police was blocking the house both from the front and the back. Several activists were arrested and beaten and two young Argentinians who had participated in the event were deported.

For more information about human rights violations visit www.eyeoncuba.org