Cuban Dissidents Criticize Obama's Trip

Saturday, March 5, 2016
By Guillermo Martinez in Sun-Sentinel:

Cuban dissidents criticize Obama's trip to the island

Dissidents in Cuba are no longer as afraid of the government as they used to be

It was on a quiet Saturday night, in a large house near Biscayne Bay.

There, one or two score of Cuban dissidents met with a handful of Cuban exiles interested in hearing from these dissidents what they thought of what was happening in Cuba — and particularly what they thought of President Obama's trip to the island later this month.

Among the better-known dissidents were two who have paid with lengthy prison sentences because of their opposition to the regime.

The well-known graffiti artist (Danilo Maldonado Machado), better known as El Sexto, spent 10 months in jail for taking two piglets and on their backs painting the names of "Fidel" and "Raúl."

It is important to note that El Sexto's jail term came without a trial. The government's secret police simply came one day, picked him up and sent him to the Valle Grande prison.

Times have changed, however. International human rights organizations interceded for him and he was freed.

This year, El Sexto traveled to Miami, where his work is being displayed through March 17 at the Market Gallery. His work includes paintings done in Holland, Cuba and the United States.

When asked where he got the inspiration to paint the name of Fidel and Raul on the back of two piglets, he responded with a smile: "George Orwell (Animal Farm) is to blame."

Jorge Luis Pérez (Antunez) was the best-known dissident at this dinner. He has been jailed several times by the regime.

He is the leader of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front — a civil society named for a political prisoner who died of a hunger strike in 2010.

Antunez, an imposing Afro-Cuban man, has experienced the regime's discrimination against minorities. He say black Cubans do not have the same education and career opportunities as white Cubans.

The freedom movements in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union inspired him to civil disobedience against the Cuban regime.

He was arrested in March 1990 and sentenced to five years in jail. Because of his refusal to wear the common criminal's uniforms, and other acts of civil disobedience, his five-year sentence turned into 17 years in jail. He was released in 2007.

Throughout the night, Cuban exiles present talked to the dissidents who were in Miami to attend a seminar. All of them will be returning to Cuba. Most will be returning before President Obama's trip to the island.

All of them criticized the president's trip. They said that unless Obama said something extraordinary, the Cuban media will play his visit as evidence of the growing support of the Cuban regime by the American president.

Castro's forces and Cuban mobs are always watching them. The dissidents are aware of that. Yet they are not afraid.

To a man, they all said that people in Cuba were increasingly less fearful of the government's repression.

People in Cuba are no longer afraid of the government, they said.

The evidence came the next day, when international media in Cuba reported that more than 200 dissidents had been arrested that day.

The dissidents in Miami will be back in Cuba and seek to make a peaceful demonstration for Obama to witness. What they plan to do, they would not say. The only thing they said is it would be peaceful. They do not believe in violence.

Personally, I wish them luck. I consider myself very fortunate at the opportunity to sit and talk with them. Now I will be paying more attention to Obama's trip with an eye on what happens to the dissidents I met.