CubaBrief: How the Castro regime responds to dissent in Cuba and the Jose Daniel Ferrer Case

On January 17th, The New York Times published a Reuters report that Jose Daniel Ferrer after being held over 100 days, attacked in the official media, and tortured by regime officials was informed on January 13th that he would be charged with assault and faced a nine year prison sentence.

Jose Daniel Ferrer was arrested on October 1, 2019 along with fellow dissidents Fernando González Vailant, José Pupo Chaveco and Roilán Zárraga. Diario de Cuba is reporting that José Pupo Chaveco faces eight years, and Fernando González Vailant and  Roilán Zárraga face seven years. They are all members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU). Reports have emerged that Pupo Chaveco is prohibited from receiving visitors at the prison.

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The Castro regime has a history of slandering and libeling regime opponents. The 2012 book Ready, Aim, Fire! Character Assassination in Cuba by Rafael Rojas analyses how the dictatorship systematically destroys reputations with a sustained mix of falsehoods, and exaggerations. Carlos Alberto Montaner in a 2011 presentation on the topic described how it is an intrinsic part of totalitarian regimes and its language of exclusion.

Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the presumption of innocence as a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial. However in a regime where the prosecution, judge and defense attorney must respond to the demands of the dictator how can the legal burden of proof be met, and triers of fact recognized as legitimate?

The Reuters report gets one key fact wrong. The Cuban government has imprisoned non-violent dissidents in recent months to prison. Amnesty International named six new Cuban prisoners of conscience in August and September of 2019. Three were jailed in the last months of the Obama Administration.

1. Josiel Guía Piloto, president of the Republican Party of Cuba, serving a five year-sentence for having criticized former President Fidel Castro on 1 December 2016.  

2. Silverio Portal Contreras, former activist with the Ladies in White, is serving a 4-year sentence for shouting “Down Fidel Castro, down Raúl in Old Havana on June 20, 2016.  

3. Mitzael Díaz Paseiro, a member of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Cívica Orlando Zapata Tamayo (FNRC-OZT), was imprisoned in 2017 for four years for “dangerousness”.  

4. Eliecer Bandera Barrera, an activist of the Unión Patriótica de Cuba (UNPACU) since 2015, is serving a sentence for “dangerousness” until 2021. He was arrested in September 2016 after having filmed videos about the conditions of workers interned in camps.  

5. Edilberto Ronal Arzuaga Alcalá, an UNPACU activist, reportedly imprisoned since December 2018 for not paying a fine related to his alleged distribution of political posters. 

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6. Roberto de Jesús Quiñones, an independent journalist, was beaten up on April 22, 2019 by regime agents while covering the trial for Cubanet of evangelicals jailed for homeschooling their children. He was accused of “resistance” and “disobedience” and on August 7th sentenced to a one-year prison sentence that he began to serve on September 11, 2019.

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This is just the tip of the iceberg. The Castro regime does not release data on how many prisoners they have, but recently some documents emerged from a credible source. According to a January 13, 2019 article in The New York Times documents were examined that “showed that approximately 92 percent of those accused in the more than 32,000 cases that go to trial in Cuba every year are found guilty. Nearly 4,000 people every year are accused of being “antisocial” or “dangerous,” terms the Cuban government uses to jail people who pose a risk to the status quo, without having committed a crime.”

Furthermore, the article says that “records show that Cuba’s prison system holds more than 90,000 prisoners. The Cuban government has only publicly released the figure once, in 2012, when it claimed that 57,000 people were jailed.” This means that Cuba, not the United States, has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

The Swedish NGO, Civil Rights Defenders, on January 13, 2019 reported that ” approximately 8,400 Cubans currently serve time for ”pre-criminal social dangerousness”. They have committed no crime but due to their social status, reading the wrong book, or having the wrong associations are imprisoned.

This evening at 7:00pm at Florida International University at the Green Library in Room 220 Sebastian Arcos, the Associate Director of the Cuban Research Institute will moderate a panel discussion, “Confronting Political Opposition in Cuba: The Case of Jose Daniel Ferrer” that discusses shifting repression tactics by the Castro regime that is free and open to the public but asks for attendees to RSVP at

The New York Times, January 17, 2020

Cuba Wants Nine Years in Prison for Leading Dissident Ferrer  

By Reuters  

HAVANA — Cuban prosecutors are asking for a nine-year prison sentence for one of the country’s top opposition leaders Jose Daniel Ferrer on charges of assault, his wife Nelva Ortega said.

Ortega told Reuters she learned the news when she visited Ferrer on Thursday but that he received the documents in his case on Jan. 13. He has yet to stand trial, and the documents did not include a date for the proceedings, she said.

The Cuban government, which calls the 49-year-old Ferrer a U.S.-backed counterrevolutionary, declined to comment.

Authorities arrested Ferrer on Oct. 1 on the assault charges, which his relatives and his opposition organization, the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), say was done to silence him.

International rights organizations including Amnesty International have described him as a prisoner of conscience and have campaigned for his release.

Ferrer was one of 75 dissidents arrested in 2003 during a nationwide crackdown known as the Black Spring. He was released on parole in 2011 and soon after formed UNPACU, which has become one of Cuba’s largest and most active opposition organizations.

The Cuban government regularly detains rights activists for a few hours or days, in what the activists describe as a long-running campaign of harassment and repression.

But in recent years, it has become unusual for the authorities to arrest a prominent figure for more than a week.

Cuba does not usually comment on the detention of dissidents, which would give them more publicity.

But given the high profile nature of Ferrer’s case and the international campaign for his release, the government broadcast a special television report on him in November, in which he was denounced as aggressive and a liar.

Critics of the authorities in Havana say the government appears to be tightening control, fearing unrest over deepening economic woes following tighter U.S. sanctions, especially since internet service was expanded, increasing access to information and the ability to mobilize.

(Reporting by Nelson Acosta and Sarah Marsh; Editing by Daniel Wallis)