CubaBrief: Cuban police shoot Black man in the back and kill him, crackdown on Cubans wanting to protest

On June 24, 2020 in Guanabacoa, Cuba 27 year old unarmed Black Cuban, Hansel E. Hernández was shot in the back and killed by the police.  Officials claim that he was stealing pieces and accessories from a bus stop when he was spotted by two Revolutionary National Police (PNR in Spanish). Upon seeing the police Hansel tried to run away and the officers pursued him nearly two kilometers. They claim that during the pursuit Hansel threw rocks at the police. Police fired two warning shots and a third in his back killing him.  Hansel’s body was quickly cremated, and an independent autopsy to verify official claims is now impossible.

Hansel E. Hernández,age 27, killed by Castro's Revolutionary National Police on June 24th

Hansel E. Hernández,age 27, killed by Castro’s Revolutionary National Police on June 24th

This would normally have ended silently with no one being the wiser, but Facebook and the courage of a traumatized family member prevented that outcome. On June 25,  a woman posted on Facebook a photo of the dead Black youth who, she said, had been the victim of the national revolutionary police a day earlier.

“I feel deep pain for the murder of my nephew Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano committed yesterday morning in La Lima, Guanabacoa (in eastern Havana), by two patrolmen (police),” she wrote. “We, the family members, ask for mercy that this cruel act at the hands of our supposed national security does not go unpunished in any way. Because a police officer, a uniform, does not give the right to murder anyone in such a way. If we know very well that they are trained with personal defense, they must carry spray, tonfas, etc. Why then did they have to resort to their firearm and take a son from a mother, a father, a nephew from their aunt, a brother from their younger sister … Noting that he was NEVER armed, please, justice.

“Over social media demonstrations were announced for June 30 to protest the killing of Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano. The secret police began shutting off internet connections, cell phones and started arbitrarily detaining those who they suspected would take part in the non-violent protests. A number of activists recorded or expressed over social media their intention to take part in the protest action and some were able to message out when they were taken, or had their homes surrounded and laid siege to by state security and were placed under house arrest. This crackdown in which seventy Cubans were targeted successfully “prevented” the non-violent action.

On June 28, 2020 independent Jorge Enrique Rodríguez was arrested and is now being charged with “Fake news” for his reporting on this police killing of a black youth.  Other journalists in the lead up to the June 30th planned protests have been detained or laid siege to their homes in order to stop them reporting on the killing of Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano and reactions to his death. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called for Jorge Enrique’s immediate release.

Meanwhile, the Castro regime has launched the equivalent of a #BlueLivesMatter campaign that it calls Heroes of the Blue ( #HeroesDeAzul ), but instead of something spontaneous from civil society or a police association this is a systematic campaign of the dictatorship. While at the same time shutting down independent actions as previously mentioned. The tweet above is an example from this campaign.

Reese Erlich wrote in The Progressive, on June 18, 2020 that “contrary to the image of brutal and repressive communists, police in Cuba offer an instructive example for activists in the United States,”  and CubaBrief the following day outlined what that would mean according to existing laws and practices of the Castro regime. On June 30th the dictatorship in Cuba gave a real life example

Reuters, June 30, 2020 

Cuba prevents protest over police killing of Black man

HAVANA (Reuters) – A raft of Cuban dissidents, artists and journalists said on Tuesday that state security agents had staked out their homes to prevent them from attending planned protests over the killing by police of a young Black man.

(A man is detained at the site where a protest against the killing of a Black man by police was due to take place in Havana, Cuba, June 30, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini)

(A man is detained at the site where a protest against the killing of a Black man by police was due to take place in Havana, Cuba, June 30, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini)

At least 40 dissident activists were also detained by police, according to exiled rights group Cubalex, with some later released.

Those included performance artist Tania Bruguera in Havana and the leader of Cuba’s most active opposition group, Jose Daniel Ferrer, who had been under house arrest in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.

Cuba does not usually comment on the detention of dissidents, which would give them more publicity. The government did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

No would-be protesters appeared able to make it to the site of what was supposed to be the main demonstration in Havana which was full of security forces. Some said state telecoms monopoly ETECSA had cut their mobile internet service overnight.

Protests against the state are rare in a country where public spaces are tightly controlled and Communist authorities are quick to crack down on dissent.

The calls for protests on Tuesday were triggered by news last week that police had shot and killed a 27-year-old unarmed Black man, Hansel Hernandez.

A woman who identified herself as his aunt denounced the killing on social media and called for justice, grabbing attention amid protests against police violence and racism in the United States.

For three days, authorities did not comment. But on Saturday, Cuba’s Interior Ministry issued a statement saying police had been chasing Hernandez, who had done jail time previously for other crimes.

Hernandez, who had committed an act of vandalism, started throwing stones at police as they chased him and hit one officer in the shoulder, throwing him to the ground, the statement said.

The officer shot Hernandez after firing off two warning shots, the statement said, adding that he acted in self defense and without the intent of killing him.

The Interior Ministry said it lamented his death.

Critics have denounced the government for not holding police to account by launching an investigation, especially given how quick officials have been to condemn U.S. police brutality, with extensive coverage in state media of the Black Lives Matter protests.

They also accuse the government more broadly of allowing police brutality and failing to adequately address racism in Cuba.

Cuba’s government prides itself on having improved the lives of Black Cubans by officially eliminating racial segregation after its 1959 revolution and providing universal access to education and healthcare.

But anti-racism activists say that by acting as if the issue of racism were resolved and suppressing debate over it, the government has prevented the steps needed to fully eradicate it.

Committee to Protect Journalists, July 2, 2020

Cuban journalist Jorge Enrique Rodríguez detained amid protests, awaiting trial

Jorge Enrique Rodríguez awaits trial (Diario de Cuba)

Jorge Enrique Rodríguez awaits trial (Diario de Cuba)

Miami, July 2, 2020–Cuban authorities should immediately release journalist Jorge Enrique Rodríguez and stop harassing the independent media, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On June 28, security forces arrested Rodríguez, of the independent news site Diario de Cuba (External link), and took him to the criminal processing center known as ‘Vivac in Havana, according to Mirta Fernández Laffitte, editor-in-chief of Diario de Cuba, who spoke with CPJ over the phone, and news (External link) reports (External link). A trial is set for July 7, according to the same sources, but CPJ was unable to determine the specific circumstances of Rodríguez’s arrest or what charges have been filed, if any.

CPJ emailed the National Revolutionary Police and the Ministry of the Interior for comment, but did not receive a response.

Rodríguez’s detention came as Cuban authorities have been cracking down on activists and journalists since the death (External link) of an Afro-Cuban man, Hansel Hernández (External link), in a confrontation with police on June 24, according to news reports. On June 30, authorities thwarted (External link) a scheduled (External link) protest and implemented measures aimed at obstructing any coverage of the matter, including preventing journalists from leaving their homes and cutting their mobile internet access, according to news reports (External link), a Twitter thread (External link) by Cuban digital rights project YucaByte, and journalists Abraham Jiménez Enoa and Mónica Baró of the independent digital news magazine El Estornudo, who were both targeted by these measures and communicated with CPJ yesterday via messaging app.

“Cuban authorities must immediately release journalist Jorge Enrique Rodríguez and drop any charges brought against him,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick from New York. “Rodríguez’s detention, and the numerous recent abuses committed against journalists to prevent coverage of the death of an Afro-Cuban man at the hands of police, show that censorship of the press in President Díaz-Canel’s Cuba is alive and well.”

Fernández told CPJ that, in April (External link), security forces interrogated Rodríguez for over two hours and informed him that he was under investigation for allegedly publishing “fake news” (“difusión de noticias falsas”), which is a crime under the country’s penal code (External link) that carries prison term of one to four years. Fernández said it was not clear to which information published by Rodríguez they were referring. “We don’t know if they will try him for ‘fake news’ or if they will try to find another common crime, such as disobedience (desacato),” Fernández said. “We don’t know exactly what they want to do with him, but he had been threatened with legal action for his reporting.” Rodríguez has reported for Diario de Cuba on social (External link) topics (External link) including the effects of COVID19(External link) on Cubans (External link), according to a CPJ review of his work.

CPJ has documented how security forces bar journalists from leaving their homes to prevent them from covering sensitive issues.

Roberto Quiñones, a journalist for news website CubaNet, is serving a one-year prison sentence for disobedience and resistance, according to CPJ research. Cuba is one of the world’s 10 most censored countries, according to CPJ research.

NBC News, July 1, 2020

Cuba devised a way to have tourists separate from the population. Here’s how.

Cuba plans to restart its tourism industry by sending visitors to five narrow islands that will offer all-inclusive vacations.

Cuba's Hotel Nacional stands tall near the empty intersection of 23rd Street and the Malecon seawall.Ismael Francisco / AP

Cuba’s Hotel Nacional stands tall near the empty intersection of 23rd Street and the Malecon seawall.Ismael Francisco / AP

By Associated Press

HAVANA — With the coronavirus waning in Cuba, the government plans to restart its tourism industry by sending visitors to five narrow islands that will offer all-inclusive vacations and keep foreigners isolated from the rest of the nation.

The state-run system scheduled to debut Wednesday is designed to reopen a vital source of economic activity without reintroducing the virus to the country of 11 million people, where new cases have dwindled to just a handful a day.

Tourists will take charter flights to the islands or to central Cuba, where they will take tests to detect the virus. Those who are negative will proceed straight to their hotels or get on a bus going directly through mainland Cuba to one of the low-lying, sandy keys that are connected to the northern coast by bridges or ferries, according to recent government statements.

Anyone who tests positive will be “isolated,” presumably some combination of being quarantined and sent back home, though the details remain unclear.

Many other Caribbean islands are reopening to tourists and imposing testing on new arrivals. But none has adopted a plan like Cuba’s that separates tourists almost entirely from the general population.

Tourist buses to the resorts will be prohibited from making stops along the way, and police officers will be assigned to each bus to enforce the rule. Visitors will not be allowed to rent cars or take trips outside the fenced-in coastal resort areas.

There is no indication that tourists will immediately start to arrive. Canada, Cuba’s biggest source of visitors, remains closed to nonessential travel until further notice. European countries also have strict travel rules in place.

Like other Caribbean islands, Cuba is highly dependent on tourism. It earned an estimated $4.1 billion from 4.2 million tourist visits last year, around 10 percent of gross domestic product, although the island’s finances are highly opaque due to government secrecy and an unusual system of two currencies, neither of which holds value outside Cuba.

After years of almost zero growth, the shutdown of international flights in March pushed Cuba into its most severe shortages and economic stagnation in many years, with long lines forming for basic products. A report from the Economic Commission on Latin America predicted a 3% to 5% drop in GDP for Cuba this year after years of stagnant growth that rarely topped 1%.

Commerce, transportation and public spaces have been shut down almost completely for three months. The shutdown, combined with health monitoring and virus testing, has virtually eliminated COVID-19 in Cuba. With more than 2,000 tests performed daily, the number of new cases emerging each day has been fewer than 10, and often less than five, for several weeks.

The new tourism model is somewhat reminiscent of past practices. Under longtime leader Fidel Castro, Cubans were prohibited from entering tourist hotels as part of a broader pattern of isolating the communist society from outside influence.

Even before the coronavirus, some coastal resort keys were off limits to Cubans. The prohibition is now expanding to its greatest extent since Castro’s brother Raul took over and dropped many restrictions.

Cuban hotel employees on the newly restricted keys will observe seven-day workweeks followed by seven days of isolation at home.

Varadero, a popular, resort-studded peninsula less than a two-hour drive from Havana, will be divided into a section for Cubans and a section for international tourists, who will not mix with the general population, officials have said.

The new measures are part of the first phase of a three-phase plan to move Cuba back to normal life, with phase three looking much like Cuba did before the virus. Cuba detected its first infections in a group of Italian tourists in the city of Trinidad in March.

All of Cuba has moved to phase one with the exception of Havana, the capital of 2 million people where the new infections have been concentrated.

Cuban tourism expert José Luis Perelló said the July 1 date to begin the new system was “a sign of intent,” on the part of Cuban authorities to show that the island was open again, “but first you need to know who’s really ready to engage in tourism this year.”

U.S. rules prohibit American visitors from trips that would be strictly tourism, like those to coastal beach resorts.

The foreign hospitality companies that manage most of Cuba’s better hotels say they are hopeful that tourists will return to destinations like Havana in the latter stages of reopening. Cuba has said that more tourism will resume by phase three, albeit with near-universal mask wearing, social distancing and tests for arriving travelers.

Cuba’s private hospitality sector remains closed to international business. For state-run tourism, the island’s success in controlling the virus is becoming part of some companies’ marketing plans.

“The island is coming out of the pandemic experience stronger, from a public-health standpoint,″ said Juan Francisco Candeal, manager of the NH Capri Hotel. “I think that the message that’s been transmitted is of a secure destination.”

Fundación para la Democracia Panamericana (FDP), June 30, 2020

#June30th Massive Repression in Cuba for Nonviolent Protest #JusticeForHansel

Arrest Alert, June 30th, 2020

Today, Ariadna Mena Rubio, promoter of Cuba Decide, was arrested. Yordanys Labrada, Lariuska Molina Enamorado, Cándido Chacon Puñales, Carlos Alberto Alvarez Roja, Ebert Hidalgo Cruz, Evert Luis Hidalgo Cruz, Iam Gámez Tell, José Daniel Ferrer García, José Daniel Ferrer Cantillo (son), Yeilis Torres Cruz, Ismael Boris, María Josefa Acón Sardiñas, members of UNPACU and promoters of Cuba Decide, also were detained on Tuesday, June 30th 2020 in Camagüey, Santiago de Cuba, La Habana, Guantanamo, Matanzas and Villa Clara, Cuba.

Also among the arrested were activists, reporters and independent citizens: Yoel Bravo Lopez, María Josefa Orama García, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, Oscar Casanella, Yanisbel Valido, Yenny Ailin Bulgado Esquenazi, Yilian Lucia Orama Garcia, Leonardo Luis, Jorge Enrique Rodríguez, Felix Perez Salazar, Hector Luis Valdez Cocho, Esteban Rodriguez, Iliana Hernandez, Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna, Maykel Osorbo, Michel Matos, Tania Bruguera, Yoel Parson, Alejandro Uganda, Amaury Pachecho, Dunia Medina Moreno and Esber Rafael Ramírez Argota.

All of these arrests were made in an effort to impede the listed individuals from peacefully protesting to demand:

1. That the case of Hansel Ernesto Hernández (murdered by the Cuban police) and the trial and punishment of the responsible officer, be broadcast on television;

2. and that the MININT retracts its malicious statements about the human dignity of that Cuban citizen killed by the police.

3. Also, that there be guarantees for the exercise of freedom of expression, both to access and to issue information without any limitation for political reasons;

4. The release of Silverio Portal Contreras for humanitarian reasons, due to the state of their health, as well as ALL political prisoners.

The promoters of Cuba Decide were also demonstrating to demand:

5. That the right of the Cuban people to decide the change of system towards including multiple parties and democracy be respected. 

Bearing these demands in mind, we request that all governments and international organizations that support freedom in Cuba unite to condemn the Cuban government’s arrests of peaceful protesters protesting against constant repression, and also to condemn the disrespect of the Castro and Díaz-Canel’s regime towards civil liberties.

Many citizens reported being arrested at home and upon forced police entry, among them were: Abel Peña, Abraham Jiménez, Abu Duyanah Tamayo, Adrian Quesada, Anamely Ramos González, Anibal Riveaux, Ariel Maceo Tellez, Camila Lobón, Carlos Lechuga, Carlos Oliva, Claudia Genluy Hidalgo, Dario Alejandro Aleman Cañizares, Diosbany Zalazar, Felix Navarro Rodriguez, Fran Correa, Iris Ruiz, Jacqueline Heredia, Karelia Mercedes Manzano, Kirenia Yalit Nuñez Perez, Leticia Ramos Herreria, Maria Matienzo, Maria Mercedes Benitez Rodriguez, Marthadela Tamayo, Miraida Martín, Monica Baro Sanchez, Omara Ruiz Urquiola, Osvaldo Navarro Veloz, Pedro Acosta, Roberto Díaz Basques, Sayli Navarro, Yunia Figueredo, Zaqueo Baéz, Zelandia Perez, Iliana Hernandez and Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna.

We urge the investigation of the arrest of each of these individuals in order to provide adequate security and protection from further threats of violence and intimidation against these detained persons.

 Several of those who have been arrested are now released. However, as this alert is being published, most remain unaccounted for.

The Citizen Report Center of the Fundación para la Democracia Panamericana is forwarding the record of each of these arbitrary arrests of this day to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.