Cuban-Americans to Hillary: Press Castro to Stop Beating Female Dissidents

Sunday, July 24, 2016
From WLRN:

Advocates Press Hillary Clinton For Support of Cuban Dissidents At Rally

There were plenty of people handing out flyers at Saturday’s rally for Hillary Clinton at Florida International University (FIU).

But, only one group sponsored a plane to fly overhead that read: “Hillary stop Castro beating Cuban women now.”

Frank Calzon is the executive director at the Center for a Free Cuba.

“The election is months away, and I think the time for her to speak out is now,” he said.

The government beatings of the group of women like the Damas de Blanco - who outwardly and peacefully oppose the Castro regime - are not  a thing of the past, Calzon said.

The Center says Clinton would make the perfect spokesperson for allowing Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross to enter the island.

Volunteers at the center handed out more than two thousand flyers before the Clinton speech at FIU.

Quote of the Day: Nobel Prize Laureate on Cuba's Dictatorship

For those of us who genuinely believe that democracy is a right of the people, the time has long come to stop covering up what we all know. Cuba is not a 'different' democracy, nor has it chosen its own path, chosen by the people. Cuba is -- plain and simple -- a dictatorship, and that hurts those of us who love freedom.
-- Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Prize laureate, in a letter to Cuban democracy leader Guillermo Fariñas, who is currently on a hunger strike demanding an end to torture and abuses by the Castro regime, Facebook, 7/23/16

Oswaldo Payá: A Story of Injustice

By Thor Halvorssen and Roberto Gonzalez in National Review:

Oswaldo Payá: A Story of Injustice

Four years after Payá’s death in a mysterious car accident, his family is still searching for the truth. 

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the death of Cuban pro-democracy dissident Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas. Despite the Castro regime’s perpetual smear campaign against him — the government has labeled him a “worm” and a “mercenary” — Payá is internationally recognized as the most prominent Cuban activist of the last 25 years in the Communist island.

In 1988, Payá founded a political movement to promote democratic transition in Cuba. The most prominent effort was the Varela Project, a draft law that — through the collection of more than 11,000 signatures and in observance of requirements set by the Cuban constitution — proposed a referendum that would allow Cubans to decide on legal reforms that would enable the respect of individual rights.

Castro’s regime didn’t take Payá’s work lightly, and it vilified the Varela Project as a CIA-funded, imperialist attempt to undermine Cuba’s constitution. As a result, almost everyone involved with the project was sent to jail and Cuba’s national assembly swiftly approved a set of constitutional reforms affirming the island’s “irrevocable” commitment to the Communist system. Despite this setback, Payá continued struggling for democratic change.

Exactly four years ago, on July 22, 2012, Oswaldo Payá was traveling by car from Havana to Santiago de Cuba. Cuban pro-democracy activist Harold Cepero, Spanish youth-party leader Ángel Carromero, and Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig were traveling with him. According to the Cuban government, Carromero lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a tree on the side of a highway in the province of Granma. The government claims that Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero died in the crash.

Almost immediately after the events, the Payá family contradicted the government’s version. They stated that a second vehicle was involved. A text message sent by Jens Modig to his friends in Sweden said that a car pushed them off the road. This was confirmed by Carromero, the driver of the car who, once out of Cuba, declared that officers from the Ministry of the Interior had forced him to change his statement of facts. Originally, Carromero had stated to an officer that they were being followed by a vehicle en route to Santiago de Cuba, which later rammed them and pushed them off the road. Carromero had been forced to record a self-incriminating video that was broadcast by state-owned media.

To date, the Cuban authorities have not communicated the autopsy’s results to the Payá family. The only document given to them by the authorities was a handwritten piece of paper, issued by Havana’s medical examiner’s office, stating Oswaldo Payá’s cause of death as “damage to the nervous system.” Also, inexplicably, the authorities washed and packed the outfit worn by Payá on the day he passed away before returning it to his family, “as if they had taken them to the cleaners,” his daughter said.

The facts behind Oswaldo Payá’s death remain uncertain and are actively obscured by the authorities. The best available evidence strongly suggests direct government responsibility for Payá’s death. Meanwhile, the Payá family still demands a proper investigation.

The reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, along with gradual economic reforms being implemented domestically, might bring improvements to the material living conditions of the average Cuban. (The economic reforms are ironic, given that the same set of constitutional reforms approved by Castro as a reaction to Payá establish that “Cuba will never return to capitalism.”) Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize that political reforms are not a topic at the Castro negotiation table. Today, Cubans who demand political reforms are faced with the same obstacles encountered by Oswaldo Payá throughout his life: smear campaigns, harassment, imprisonment, and death threats. Despite the propaganda, little has changed in Castro’s Cuba after 57 years.

While many of us are lucky enough to live and labor in democracies (however imperfect) and learn about independence movements and revolutionary leaders through history books, there are still millions of people who live under the boot and whim of an autocrat like Castro. In those places, remarkable and frequently unsung individuals such as Payá still risk their lives to achieve liberty and democracy. Sadly, their moral stance can bring the vilest of punishments.

Today, four years after his untimely death, we remember and celebrate the life of Oswaldo Payá and many others like him who have made the ultimate sacrifice in their fight for freedom.

Recent Crimes of Cuba's Castro Regime: Sirley's Story

Friday, July 22, 2016
Please watch this video testimony produced by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation of Sirley Ávila León, former Cuban National Assembly delegate-turned-dissident, who had her limb severed in a machete attack as a result.

Click below (or here) to watch the video:

Also, below is Sirley's recent Congressional testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations:

My name is Sirley Ávila León. I am Cuban and I live in Cuba. Because of my work as a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power for the Majibacoa municipality since 2005, I have seen the double standards of our leaders, who in reality are not interested in the people. The biggest problems were bureaucratic: there was so much corruption that the system did not work. From the beginning, I started to take interest in the lives of the citizens and in particular the children of my region, who walked more than 9 kilometers through difficult roads in order to attend the nearest school. The parents, needing to accompany their children, had no time to cultivate their land, despite the abject poverty in which they lived. Some emigrated to other villages in order to spare their children. I set myself to the task of demanding the school that the neighborhood needed so much. I reached the highest echelons of power in Cuba, passing through all the intermediate levels, and although I managed to get a school built, it was soon closed, leaving the village and rural children in the same situation of helplessness.

Because of my work and my demands in favor of reopening the school, I began to be accused of being a leader, and the families of the farmers in my area began to receive threats that their school-aged children would be taken away from them. I was threatened and repeatedly repressed by government officials, and in Havana I was even expelled from the Council of State and threatened with being accused of threatening State Security. All this is what led me, on September 8, 2012, to denounce the regime’s human rights violations against the farmers and the people in general from the island itself, by means of the broadcaster Radio Martí. From that moment onwards, I was a victim of several attempts on my life, attempts to eliminate me physically, and other acts of vandalism against my farm, my animals and my property, all organized by the regime and its political police as part of its attempt to get rid of me. A young woman, Yudisleidy López Rodríguez, alerted me to the fact that the political police had offered highly dangerous common criminals rewards for murdering me. She was killed on September 26, 2014 for publicly decrying an attack on me in which my bed was set on fire during the early morning. Her murder was covered up as a crime of passion.

On May 24, 2015, I was attacked in my home by Osmani Carrión, who was sent by State Security to kill me. I am sure he was sent by the political police because I later discovered that he was a highly dangerous common prisoner who had been granted parole only days before attacking me. He attacked me with a machete, severing my left hand and mutilating my right arm and both knees. He did not cut off my head thanks to the presence of a child at the scene of the events and thanks to God who protected my life so that I could be here today and offer my testimony. In the days before the attack the regime had started a rumor that I had sold the farm and had left the area so that the neighbors would not be concerned about my physical disappearance.

Today before this Subcommittee of Foreign Affairs of the United States Congress, I want to ask two questions. Taking into account the US government’s new relations with the dictatorship of Cuba, I wonder:

Why has the situation of systematic human rights violations in Cuba not been a fundamental point in negotiations with a regime that has been in power for 57 years?

How is it possible that the US government has made so many concessions to the government of Cuba without demanding respect for human rights on the island and justice for the many attacks on the civil and political rights of the Cuban people? I am a direct witness of the workings of the legal system, in which citizens are not guaranteed any procedural safeguards.

I am very grateful that over the years other victims of repression in Cuba have had the chance to come forward in this very space in order to denounce and publicize the realities of life in Cuba. And I thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate here today. I ask only that the government of the United States, international human rights organizations, and the governments of the free world not abandon the people of Cuba in their struggle for freedom. Do not allow yourselves to be confused by the regime’s propaganda campaign presenting Cuba as a country in transition. Cuba remains a military dictatorship. In Cuba human rights continue to be violated. And the people of Cuba are now more alone than ever behind the curtain of foreign investors and North American tourists.

I ask you not to abandon Cuba and to denounce the harsh reality we live.

Thank you very much.

Cuban Democracy Leader Begins Hunger Strike to Protest His Torture

From Breitbart:

Cuba Post-‘Normalization’: Tortured Dissident Begins 24th Hunger Strike to Protest

Guillermo Fariñas, a Cuban human rights activist who has been a vocal critic of President Barack Obama’s concessions to dictator Raúl Castro, has declared himself on a hunger strike following a severe beating in which communist agents tortured him for hours for daring to inquire about the status of another dissident in custody.

Fariñas has posted a video online describing the injuries he suffered this week at the hands of Castro’s police. Fariñas and a group of dissidents had walked to a police station to inquire about a dissident recently arrested: Carlos Amel Oliva, currently himself on a hunger strike.

Fariñas notes that they did not assemble in protest; they made no public declarations against communism, held up no signs and brought no flyers to distribute urging dissent. He was nonetheless arrested and tortured, suffering two fractured ribs and speaking through a swollen, “black” tongue.

In the video, he describes the methods of torture: Attempted asphyxiation, elbow blows to the ribs, and having his tongue pulled out until it turned purple. The police, he said, told him “it was important for me to know… they didn’t want me on the street anymore.”

“He told me he was going to kill me and ‘viva Fidel,'” Fariñas adds, calling the torture “crimes against humanity.”

Fariñas will not eat or drink water, he declares, until “Raúl Castro says publicly to everyone that there will be no more torture, no more beatings, no more death threats, no more false charges against opposition and arbitrary confiscation.” He confirms to the cameraman that he is willing to die in protest.

Fariñas has also penned an open letter to Raúl Castro in which he asserts that a wave of “abuse, terror, and violence by the repressive authorities of your government” has escalated in the past 19 months, since President Obama announced his concessions to the Castro regime in December 2014.

Fariñas, who in 2010 won the European Parliament’s Andrei Sakharov Prize for human rights advocacy and the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in 2015, has been an outspoken critic of President Obama. Following the initial announcement of the beginning of the “normalization” process in 2014, Fariñas said he felt “betrayed” by President Obama. “We live in daily fear that we will be killed by the fascist government. And now, the US – our ally – turns its back on us and prefers to sit with our killers,” he said.

Repression Intensifies Against Cuban Dissident Youth Cells

From 14ymedio (via Translating Cuba):

“It Has Sparked Harsh Repression”

The harassment against the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) intensifies. Several activists of the opposition organization have denounced the up to five raids that took place in the early morning hours this Thursday.

Ovidio Martin Castellanos, a member of UNPACU’s Coordination Council in Santiago de Cuba, confirmed to 14ymedio that antiriot troops entered the home of Jose Maria Heredia, on 8th Street in the Mariano de la Torre neighborhood. “They mixed anti-riot troops with the political police. At the front was a Major from counterintelligence who calls himself Bruno. Once inside the house, they seized and stole his possessions.

Carlos Amel Oliva, on hunger strike since last July 13 “to protest the arbitrary confiscations” experienced similar interventions to those of last night, also explained in detail the raid on the house where the Heredia cell is organized and where the father of the youth leader Carlose Oliva lives.

The operation was led by three State Security officers known as Charles, Bruno and Julio Fonseca. The troops were assault troops, officers fully clothed in bullet-proof vests with long shotguns. They entered my house, tearing down the first door, and taking a video camera and some documents. They also went into the house of some neighbors who have shown a lot of solidarity with me in previous days and took a laptop and hard disk from them,” he said.

The operation was even extended to a kindergarten managed by UNPACU that serves 20 children, children of sympathizers of the movement. There they confiscated a laptop and “frightened the coordinator who cares for the children,” according to the activists, who were relieved that the raid occurred at dawn and that there were no children in the house.

“It has sparked a harsh repression,” says Ovidio Martin, who adds that at Yasmani Magaña’s house, in Palmarito de Cauto, various slogans were painted on the walls, including “Viva Fidel.” According to the opponent, eleven people were detained in this operation, driven approximately 10 miles away and beaten before being released far from town.

“This wave of repression comes because the regime knows the situation that is looming. They are preparing the population for a new Special Period, because people don’t want to live through that again. To us, we are determined to take to the streets and we have attracted their sympathy, and they have intensified harassment because they are afraid that people are joining and becoming activists,” he says.

Carlos Amel has taken advantage of the new wave of attacks against the organization he belongs to, to detail the reasons for his hunger strike. Despite being determined not to eat until they return his belongings, he clarifies the meaning of his words. “It is not [for] a laptop and a computer, they are things that are not worth the life of any human being, but because they arrest us when we go out. Or come into our homes and take whatever they want. This is a constant violation of our rights,” he denounces.

Oliva has shown his appreciation for the support he has received from his organization and other opposition groups such as Somos+ (We Are More) and FANTU (Anti-Totalitarian Forum), and in real solidarity with Guillermo ‘Coco’ Fariñas, on hunger strike as of this Wednesday.

“I am a little weak physically, but firm in my position,” says Oliva. “I have received many calls from abroad, from friends, from media… it is very comforting, for someone on a hunger strike this is the only source of strength.”

Oversight Needed on U.S.-Cuba Embassy Deal

Thursday, July 21, 2016
On the one-year anniversary of the resumption of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties, the Obama Administration should be pressed on whether Cuba is respecting Vienna Convention standards in its treatment of U.S. diplomats and the operation of the Embassy.

For example, does U.S. Embassy personnel currently have freedom of movement and travel in Cuba?

Is the Castro regime respecting the inviolability of U.S. diplomatic pouches to the Embassy in Havana?

Do all Cuban nationals working at the Embassy still have to be hired through SERVIMPORT, a Castro regime enterprise owned and operated by the Council of State?

We raised these key questions and other issues regarding the Embassy deal one-year ago -- click here.

The American people now deserve answers.

As discussed in today's The Miami Herald:

Resumption of U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties hits one-year mark

After months of discussions on conditions to reopen the embassies, negotiators agreed that diplomats from both countries would have greater freedom to travel and engage with the people of each nation.

But Mauricio Claver-Carone, one of the founders of the pro-embargo U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and executive director of Cuba Democacy Advocates, said he has “yet to see U.S. embassy personnel visiting the provinces regularly, let alone to visit democracy activists.”

In contrast, he said, “Castro regime officials are traveling throughout the U.S., propagandizing, lobbying against U.S. policy and being given visas without hesitation.”

Since the resumption of diplomatic ties, Cuban Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas has traveled extensively across the United States, attending conferences and speaking to various groups. He often tweets about his experiences and new developments in the Cuba-U.S. relationship.

[U.S. Rep. Ileana] Ros-Lehtinen said she wishes U.S. embassy personnel would engage in more outreach: “U.S. pro-democracy advocates have complained that they have less access to the embassy and their visas are being denied, even though Castro sympathizers have their visas granted,” she said.

And some exile activists complain that the United States has done little in the past year to further an agenda that includes respect for human rights in Cuba.

“We have yet to see how the embassy has helped promote human rights on the island better, amid growing repression. To the contrary, the silence is deafening,” said Claver-Carone.

Dissidents React to Anniversary of U.S.-Cuba Ties

Various Cuban dissidents have reacted to the one-year anniversary of U.S.-Cuba ties.

Diario de Cuba has a compilation of their reactions.

Below are some excerpts.

Berta Soler, Leader of the Ladies in White:

One year after the Interests Section gave way to an Embassy, the change has been very great, not only in terms of the name, but how the Embassy of the United States is behaving.

Right now I can say that many human rights activists who had computer time there, to communicate with the outside, and be able to report on their work and the situation on the Island, have been affected.

Civil society's access to the computers is not facilitated in any way. I cannot say that attention by or contact with US officials has ceased to exist, but we have seen everything change.

The computers to which we had access are now being used for English courses for young people. We are not against this, but these are young people affiliated with the Communist Party. They are not representatives of civil society, and they are not opponents of the Government. They are persons hand-picked by the Cuban Government.

These relations between the US government and the Cuban regime have not benefited the people of Cuba at all. What we see is that the only thing President Barack Obama is interested in is business: doing business with the military because here it is the Revolutionary Armed Forces that run Gaviota, and the TRD.

These are businesses transactions that will not benefit the people of Cuba or bring about change. After Obama's visit, we have seen how police and State Security Department repression against people who want to exercise their freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration, has only gotten worse.

For example: the Ladies in White. We have been harassed for 62 Sundays in a row. And the US government has not spoken up to demand that the Cuban regime cease its actions.

Martha Beatriz Roque, former prisoner of the "Group of 75":

The high hopes sparked by the resumption of relations with the US government have been largely dashed. We have endured a year full of hardships, and the next one will be even harder.

People thought that an improvement in relations could mean an improvement for the people. This was what President Obama said at all times, that civil society was going to notice the improvements, but so far this has not been the case. The only thing it has experienced to date has been the regime's kicks and punches.

The regime, on the other hand, has benefited from the easing of restrictions enacted by the Obama Administration, while the people continue to languish, with the same old problems, now aggravated by the deficient transport, power outages, and water shortages.

What the Obama administration has done is to funnel money into the pockets of the Castro brothers, not into those of the average Cuban. And the Washington-Havana relations have served to buoy the regime internationally.

Antonio Rodiles, Coordinator of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms (ForoDyL):

A year ago relations were restored but, if one counts the 18 months of the confidential political process leading up to that achievement, it has been some 3 years of rapprochement between Washington and Havana. During this period what has been most evident is an increase in repression and violence on the Island.

This is a trend that has affected not only the opposition and human rights activists, but also the population at large, ordinary Cubans who do not get involved in politics because they are afraid to; the self-employed, for example, with fines, controls, and the whole issue of abusive and excessive taxes.

What we are seeing is a regime that, though it has opened up in the international sphere, at home is doubling down on its repressive policies. A sign of this is the relentless flight of Cubans abroad we have been recently been witnessing.

The Obama Administration had stated that this was best way to bring about positive change in Cuba, but I think it is high time that it at least begin to publicly recognize that things are not going as they expected, because what we are experiencing is a process curtailing all the freedoms and rights of Cubans.

From the outset the Forum for Rights and Freedoms identified the need for a real political process in which the regime also had to take steps. This is not what has happened. The people behind this agenda of continuing to grant concessions, without requiring anything from the regime in return, are proving to be somewhat obstinate.

It is very worrisome that in recent weeks we have seen a wave of imprisonments, not only temporary arrests, while Washington remains utterly silent about the situation. Moreover, the famous empowerment that the self-employed were going to enjoy has yet to materialize.

The regime's response to the Obama Administration's measures has been its traditional backwardness, and it is surprising that there have been no statements released, by any institution, including human rights groups, with respect to the current situation.