CubaBrief: Human Rights Watch denounces rights violations against Cubans trying to protest the killing of a young black man in Cuba in June 2020 by police

Human Rights Watch on July 28th denounced that “Cuban authorities committed numerous rights violations in June 2020 against people organizing a protest over police violence, effectively suppressing the demonstration.” The human rights organization was referring to the murder of a young black man in Cuba by Castro’s police a month earlier and the state security operation to shut down public protests over the killing.

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

On June 24, 2020 in Guanabacoa, Cuba an unarmed 27 year old 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.

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.

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

Despite this, the Castro regime, their allies, and agents of influence in the United States are engaged in a campaign to promote policing in Cuba as an improvement over policing in the United States. The Progressive, a publication founded in 1909 in Madison, Wisconsin on June 18, 2020 published a column titled “Foreign Correspondent: Police Lessons From Cuba” by Reese Erlich that claims “Contrary to the image of brutal and repressive communists, police in Cuba offer an instructive example for activists in the United States.”

On July 26th the Minnesota Cuba Committee held a discussion titled “Police Conduct and Community Crime Control: Lessons of the Cuban Revolution”. The main speaker was August Nimtz, a faculty member in the Department of Political Science, and African American & African Studies at the University of Minnesota.

What does real policing look like in Cuba, and civilian oversight? According to Cuban lawyer Humberto Lopez asked on June 10th, on an episode of his “Hacemos Cuba” TV show “recording the police officer isn’t illegal or constitute a crime” but “if this image is uploaded onto a digital platform without this person’s consent, then you are using it without their authorization,”would violate the right to privacy of the police officer under Article 48 of the Cuban Constitution. The Cuban attorney added “that if the intent of the publication is to defame police actions (he didn’t say if it mattered if these actions were right or wrong), it is an administrative violation, which is subject to a fine, because it violates Decree-Law 370 passed in 2018, by the Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications.” 

Professor August Nimtz in a July 7, 2020 webinar titled “Why there are no George Floyds in Cuba” excused the killing of Hansel by the National Revolutionary Police as a “rare and unusual” event, claiming that it “was being exploited by Cuba’s opponents to incite division on the island.” Cuban diplomats from the Embassy in Washington DC also participated in the webinar.  If the United States had the same rules in place regarding policing then the killing of George Floyd may never have been known, and the young woman who recorded his death would be jailed or worse. Professor Nimtz also mentions how The New York Times supported the Castro regime in 1959, but failed to mention that the same newspaper on January 25, 2020 published an article that recognized that systemic racism exists in the Castro regime.

Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro pictures with BLM founded Opal Tometi on the right

Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro pictures with BLM founded Opal Tometi on the right

Meanwhile Lizette Alvarez, a Miami based journalist, writes an OpED in The Washington Post on July 29th raised the question of hostility towards the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement by the Latino community in Miami, but failed to mention that BLM are self described Marxists that wrote upon Castro’s death in 2016 a text titled: “Lessons from Fidel: Black Lives Matter and the Transition of El Comandante” that they tweeted and Opal Tometi, one of the founders of BLM, was photographed together with Nicolas Maduro a year earlier on September 29, 2015 after honoring the Venezuelan strong man at an event in Harlem.

The celebration of Maduro took place a little over a year from the international outrage generated by his ordering police and other security forces to fire on non-violent protesters, including many students. Below are two cases that caught world attention at the time.

Bassil Alejandro Dacosta(age 24) shot and killed on February 12, 2014

Bassil Alejandro Dacosta(age 24) shot and killed on February 12, 2014

Bassil Alejandro Da Costa was shot in the head in Caracas on February 12, 2014 from shots fired by a group of police men and his killing was captured from different angles on three different cameras. He was 24 years old. The day before he was killed Bassil posted  over Facebook: “Gentlemen, he who is here will go out tomorrow to find a better future.”

Another of these martyred students was Geraldine Moreno, who was shot in the head repeatedly with buckshot on February 19, 2014 by Maduro’s national guard in Tazajal, located in Naguanagua, in the state of Carabobo in Venezuela while taking part in a non-violent protest. In one of her last tweets on February 17, 2014 Geraldine explained what motivated her to take part in the demonstrations: “No one sends me I go because I want to defend my Venezuela.” She died from her injuries on Saturday, February 22, 2014. She was just 23 years old.

Geraldine Moreno murdered by Maduro's police in 2014

Geraldine Moreno murdered by Maduro’s police in 2014

If the BLM movement which has achieved an international dimension is truly about curtailing police killing black people then why would Opal Tometi honor the strongman overseeing the police force that has the second highest number of police killings in the world and that also kills unarmed black people?

Perhaps this is the reason for the “indifference” and “hostility” among some Latinos in Miami towards the BLM movement that Ms. Alvarez described in her OpEd. No one can argue that black lives matter, and that society must do better to ensure equality before the law. However at the same time, for some, that does not mean embracing a movement that while proclaiming opposition to police killings of black people, celebrates those regimes who’s police do it in Cuba and Venezuela because they share an ideological affinity.

It is also important to remember that the Civil Rights Movement in the United States that counted among its leaders Reverend  Martin Luther King Jr. and the recently passed John Lewis advocated non-violent change to enforce the provisions of equality found in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and rejected communism while at the same time reaching out to victims of repression from around the world, including Cuban dissidents.

Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart on January 22, 2015 tweeted the image of American civil rights icon Representative John Lewis seated at a table with Cuban dissidents, Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez and Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, remarking “What a historic moment: Three civil and human rights heroes meeting.” 

On June 8, 2020 Facts About Cuban Exiles ( FACE), a Cuban exile organization founded in 1982, had a statement published in The Miami Herald in which they declared their “solidarity with the African-American community of Miami over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis while unarmed and not resisting arrest. It is additionally important for us, freedom-loving members of the Miami community to join in denouncing the violations of Floyd’s civil rights by police, members of an institution that should protect life and liberty and not to deprive a citizen of them. We grieve with you.” 

These Cuban exiles further underscored their declaration taking “sides four-square with protesters that honor the tradition of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who led the most consequential civil-rights movement in history based strictly on nonviolence. The respect shown by demonstrators in Miami by not resorting to violence and destruction is to be commended. We want to assure those mostly young people that activism works in a democracy. We applaud their civic awareness and sense of responsibility. We extend our hand in fellowship and offer a heartfelt abrazo, an embrace of understanding. FACE stands with you.”

Martyred Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas in a December 2002 speech before the European Parliament explained that “rights have no political, racial or cultural hue. Nor have dictatorships any political color: they are neither right-wing or left-wing, they are merely dictatorships.” If we are to achieve positive change in this world on human rights, then activists of all political stripes will have to internalize these truths and apply them across the board.

Human Rights Watch, July 28, 2020

Cuba: Protest Over Police Killing Suppressed

Covid-19 No Excuse for Arbitrary Detention, Communication Restrictions

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. © 2020 Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters.

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. © 2020 Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters.

(Washington, DC) – Cuban authorities committed numerous rights violations in June 2020 against people organizing a protest over police violence, effectively suppressing the demonstration, Human Rights Watch said today.

Many Cubans planned to gather in Havana and other parts of Cuba on June 30 to protest the June 24 killing by police officers of 27-year-old Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano in Havana. Cuban authorities said that policemen found Hernández Galiano stealing and shot him as he was fleeing and throwing stones at the police. Ahead of the planned protest, Cuban authorities harassed and detained scores of people, and accused some of the crime of “spreading an epidemic.” Some dissidents reported that their cellphone data and phone service were interrupted beginning on the morning of June 30, in what appeared to be targeted restrictions. The protest was effectively suppressed and did not take place.

“Arbitrarily detaining people to prevent them from demonstrating peacefully shows what the Cuban government is willing to do to stop critical voices from being heard,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “This is part of a broader pattern in which Cuban authorities will find any excuse – in this case, the pandemic – to treat dissent as a crime, instead of establishing ways to allow peaceful protests to occur safely.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 15 people in Cuba by telephone, including victims of abuse and harassment, journalists, and local human rights defenders. Human Rights Watch also reviewed and corroborated videos posted on social media, publications by local human rights groups, and media reports.

June 30, when the protest was scheduled to take place, was one of the last days of a lockdown, which included strict legal restrictions on going outdoors, to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Havana. But some arrests in connection with the protests occurred in other parts of the country that were not under lockdown, such as Santiago de Cuba, victims said.

On June 29 and the morning of June 30, Cuban police officers ordered people who were planning to attend not to join the protests. In some cases, the officers appeared at their homes ordering them to stay there, they said. In other cases, people said they received anonymous phone calls ordering them not to join. Cuban rights groups reported that at least 84 people were forced to stay in their houses or harassed in other ways by police forces on June 30.

Eleven people said that their cellphone data and internet service was interrupted the morning of the planned protest and the following day. In other cases, landline phone services were restricted. People calling these individuals heard a message indicating that “The number you are calling is temporarily restricted from incoming calls,” news media reported. Several affected people told Human Rights Watch and the media that they had faced similar restrictions on internet access ahead of prior protests. When they face such restrictions, protesters borrow phones from friends and relatives who are not critical of the government and whose service has not been interrupted, they told Human Rights Watch.

Police officers arrested many people as they headed to the protest sites and detained them for several hours. Police forces arrested 52 people in connection with the planned protest, according to Cuban human rights groups.

Tania Bruguera, an artist, told Human Rights Watch that police officers showed up at her house in Havana on June 29 and ordered her not to go to the protest. As she left her house the next morning, officers detained her and drove her to a police station. They did not say why she was being detained. As she entered the police station, she heard an officer say, “Do not do anything to this one,” Bruguera said.

Hours later, a lieutenant colonel interrogated her about her role in the planned protest. The officer commented about personal details of Bruguera’s life, including the death of her mother and her family composition, she said. Around 2 p.m. an officer asked her to sign a document indicating that she had been detained for “disturbance to the public order.” Bruguera said she refused. She was released around 4 p.m.

Three men wearing civilian clothes stood for hours next to the home of Oscar Casanella in Havana on June 29, he told Human Rights Watch. When he left his house on June 30, the same men approached him and told him that he “already knew” he could not leave. Casanella was recording the interaction with his phone. He refused to go back inside and asked them if they were police officers. The men did not respond. Instead, they took his phone, arrested Casanella, and drove him – in a police car with two police and two army officers – to a nearby police station.

They refused to allow him to make a phone call and held him incommunicado from around 11:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m., when they released him, Casanella said. While he was there, a lieutenant colonel interrogated him, telling him to accept charges for “spreading an epidemic” and participating in a “public scandal.” When Casanella refused, he said, she threatened him with criminal proceedings and a long prison sentence. Casanella’s cellphone data did not work for most of July 1, he said.

Juan Osorio (pseudonym) said that the morning of June 30, four policemen showed up at his home in Havana. They told him that if he left, he would be arrested. “I could not even take the garbage out or walk my dogs,” Osorio said. Two officers stood by his doorstep the entire day, while two others waited in an official car nearby, he said. Osorio and his wife said that their cellphone data did not work that day until about 5 p.m.

Police officers arrested Luis Manuel Otero, also an artist, on June 30 in Havana as he was heading to the protest. They held him in a police station from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Otero said, not telling him why he was being detained. His cellphone data did not work from 9 a.m. that morning until the next day, he said. Otero is facing separate criminal charges for “desecration of patriotic symbols” for his use of the Cuban flag in the performance piece Drapeau, in which he wore the Cuban flag or carried it around with him 24 hours a day for a month.

Access to the internet is severely limited in Cuba. Internet is very expensive, making its cost prohibitive for many Cubans. Telecommunication services are exclusively offered by the state-owned Telecommunications Company of Cuba S.A. (ETECSA) and are controlled by the Cuban government, which exercises its ability and legal mandate to restrict connectivity in ways that are inconsistent with international human rights norms.

In its 2020 report on Cuba, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that the authorities engaged in “repeated arbitrary arrests as a method of harassment by the police and State security agents.” In the Commission’s view, these arrests “are intended to discourage the expression of views critical of the government, hinder the free expression of opinions and ideas,” as well as to “impede the work of defense and promotion of fundamental rights.” The Commission also reported that access to internet in the island is “severely obstructed” including by “limited connectivity of the Cuban population,” “blocking and censorship,” as well as “on-line surveillance.”

Under international human rights law, governments are obligated to respect and protect individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and association, including through peaceful protests. Any restrictions on such rights, including in the context of Covid-19, must be necessary and proportionate to the achievement of a legitimate aim, such as protecting public health. Governments also have an obligation to ensure that any restrictions on access to information online are provided by law and are necessary and proportionate.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/28/cuba-protest-over-police-killing-suppressed#

Miami Herald, June 8, 2020

Facts About Cuban Exiles stands with Miami’s African-American community

FACE, Facts About Cuban Exiles, stands in solidarity with the African-American community of Miami over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis while unarmed and not resisting arrest. It is additionally important for us, freedom-loving members of the Miami community to join in denouncing the violations of Floyd’s civil rights by police, members of an institution that should protect life and liberty and not to deprive a citizen of them. We grieve with you.

FACE sides four-square with protesters that honor the tradition of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who led the most consequential civil-rights movement in history based strictly on nonviolence. The respect shown by demonstrators in Miami by not resorting to violence and destruction is to be commended. We want to assure those mostly young people that activism works in a democracy. We applaud their civic awareness and sense of responsibility. We extend our hand in fellowship and offer a heartfelt abrazo, an embrace of understanding. FACE stands with you.

Eduardo J. García,

chairman,

FACE Miami

https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/article243368951.html