Hunger strike in Cuba
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    Rewarding Cuba leads to escalation in repression of Cuban dissidents

    NAT HENTOFF: Rewarding Cuba leads to escalation in repression of Cuban
    dissidents
    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.”

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    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
    security agents.”

    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 –
    www.pottsmerc.com/opinion/20151014/nat-hentoff-rewarding-cuba-leads-to-escalation-in-repression-of-cuban-dissidents

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