Rewarding Cuba leads to escalation in repression of Cuban dissidents
NAT HENTOFF: Rewarding Cuba leads to escalation in repression of Cuban
POSTED: 10/14/15, 2:00 AM EDT
On Dec. 10, 2014, the Cuban government marked the 64th anniversary of
international Human Rights Day with sweeping nationwide arrests of
pro-democracy dissidents. One week later, on Dec. 17, President Obama
announced that the United States and Cuba had agreed to begin the
process of normalizing relations.
The agreement, reached after 18 months of negotiations, included plans
to reopen the U.S. and Cuban embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C.,
and a promise by President Obama to advocate for an end to the economic
embargo of Cuba. In exchange, Cuba released 53 political prisoners on a
list presented by the U.S. negotiators.
The Cuban government’s response at each stage in the process of
reconciliation has been a steady escalation in the arbitrary harassment,
abuse, arrest and detention of Cuba’s pro-democracy dissidents.
Human Rights Watch reports that “the Cuban Commission for Human Rights
and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) — an independent group the (Cuban)
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.”
Before CCDHRN’s blog stopped being updated in June, its monthly arrest
reports reflected that Cuban security police had made over 2,000
detentions for peaceful political activity since President Obama
announced the normalization of relations in December 2014.
“Detention is often used pre-emptively to prevent individuals from
participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics,”
Human Rights Watch noted in its 2015 report on Cuba. “Other repressive
tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of
shaming, and the termination of employment.”
Yilenni Aguilera Santos is a member of the Damas de Blanco (“Ladies in
White”) protest movement, a group of wives and family members of former
and current political prisoners. On June 22, 2014, she reported
suffering a miscarriage following a severe beating by Cuban security
police during her detention in Holguin.
On Sept. 27, 2015, the website Diario de Cuba reported that the
21-year-old daughter of Damas de Blanco member Daisy Basulto was
arrested, violently stripped, forced to urinate in front of police
officers and then held in a cell at a police station in Cotorro, where
she was exposed to a toxic chemical that made her ill.
The Cuban government prides itself on the excellence of its free
nationwide healthcare system. But it maintains an “overcrowded,”
“unhygienic” prison system, where “unhealthy conditions lead to
extensive malnutrition and illness,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Inmates “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.”
During the Castros’ 2003 crackdown on pro-democracy dissidents, 10
independent librarians were among the 75 dissidents sentenced to 20
years or more in prison and forced to serve their terms in isolation
cells 3 feet wide by 6 feet long.
Kevin Sullivan, writing in 2004 for The Washington Post, reported that
at least 20 of the 75 dissidents “are seriously ill in Cuban prison
cells.” According to Sullivan, “a picture emerged of inhumane prison
conditions and continued harassment of the dissidents’ families by Cuban
The conditions of confinement for political prisoners in Cuba have
changed little since 2004. Alexander Roberto Fernandez Rico, one of the
53 prisoners released by Cuba in December, was arrested in April 2012
for shouting anti-Castro slogans while witnessing the police beating of
a bus passenger. By the time he was released from prison, following a
lengthy hunger strike, he was blind.
The Guardian newspaper reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry,
while attending the official flag raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy
in Havana on Aug. 14, “insisted that Cubans should be reassured that a
return to diplomatic relations with Washington would result in the
country’s leaders being held to account over their human rights record.”
Meanwhile, Cuban dissidents were barred from attending the public
ceremony at the insistence of Cuban authorities.
On Sept. 30, Carlos Manuel Figueroa Alvarez — who was arrested at a
Human Rights Day protest in 2013 and was one of the 53 prisoners
released — shouted, “Down with Raul!” as he climbed over the wall of
the U.S. Embassy in Havana. His efforts to seek the protection of U.S.
authorities were rebuffed as he was forced off the embassy grounds by
U.S. security personnel and turned over to Cuba’s security police.
His current whereabouts are unknown.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment
and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for
Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior
fellow. Nat collaborated with his son, Nick Hentoff on this column.
Source: NAT HENTOFF: Rewarding Cuba leads to escalation in repression of
Cuban dissidents –