CubaBrief: Human rights in Cuba and the upcoming Elections in the United States

All too often politicians in the debate over U.S. Cuba policy and the Castro legacy discuss it as if it is something that ended in the 1960s, but the reality is that 11 million Cubans today are suffering under this communist dictatorship. 

Couple of days ago on August 4, I received a request from Roberto José Quiñones Castro, a college student in the United States, to share a website ( ) campaigning for his dad’s release. His dad,  Roberto de Jesús Quiñones is a journalist, who was beaten up by Castro’s political police in April 2019 for covering a trial of pastors who were jailed for homeschooling their kids.  The Cuban journalist began serving a one-year prison sentence on September 11, 2019 and is an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.  

Roberto in front of the Cuban Embassy demanding his dad's freedom

Roberto in front of the Cuban Embassy demanding his dad’s freedom

Despite Cuba’s terrible human rights record the Cuban dictatorship is once again seeking to gain membership on the UN Human Rights Council in order to subvert it, and advance the Castro regime’s toxic agenda.

At the same time in the United States, Cuba is a center of controversy once again in a U.S. presidential election.

Congresswoman Karen Bass, who is under consideration to be Vice President Joe Biden’s running mate in 2020, at the height of the Castro regime’s influence in the 1970s spent time a lot of time in Cuba on Venceremos Brigades volunteering for the dictatorship, and the Representative from California mourned the passing of Fidel Castro in November 2016 calling him “comandante en jefe” (commander in chief). She is not helping Vice President Biden’s case when she said in a television interview that her position was “no different than the position of the Obama administration.”  She also highlighted her recent trips to “Cuba with President Obama,” and “with Secretary [John] Kerry when we raised the flag.”

Congresswoman Karen Bass

Congresswoman Karen Bass

However the Congresswoman makes no mention about what happened afterwards.

During President Barack Obama’s détente with Cuba, the Cuban military’s role in the tourist economy expanded and further centralized economic control.

Over a quarter century, Eusebio Leal, who recently passed away, restored portions of Havana turning it into “a tourist draw that brings in more than $170 million a year.” In August 2016, less than six months after Obama’s state visit, “the Cuban military took over the business operations of Leal’s City Historian’s Office, absorbing them into a business empire that has grown dramatically since the declaration of detente between the U.S. and Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014.”

Meanwhile trade between the United States and Cuba collapsed in 2015 to $185.7 million from a peak of $711.5 million in 2008, the last year of the Bush Administration.

American diplomats in Havana began suffering brain trauma and officials were aware of it in November 2016, but nothing was done by the Obama Administration, and the problem ballooned under the Trump Administration. This was something new that is still not understood, but it had not happened before the 2014 opening.

Congressman Bash also seemed to forget that on January 2, 2017 Cuban troops marched in a parade over which Raul Castro presided, chanting that they would repeatedly shoot President Barack Obama in the head so many times that they would make a “hat of lead to the head.”

Does this appear to be a positive relationship that advances U.S. interests? If not then why to return to it?

In contrast, under the Trump Administration Reuters reported on July 29th in their article “Cuba Loosens Straitjacket on Private Sector to Stimulate Economy” that “Communist-run Cuba is loosening restrictions on small businesses as it seeks to stimulate a state-dominated economy hammered by the implosion of ally Venezuela, U.S. sanctions and the pandemic.”

Hansel E. Hernández killed by police in Cuba on June 24, 2020

Hansel E. Hernández killed by police in Cuba on June 24, 2020

Most surprisingly at a time when the world is focused on Black Lives Matter, she made no mention of the case of a young man murdered by the police in Cuba and the draconian response to local activists that wanted to protest the killing. 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.

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.” Here is a more detailed explanation from the human rights group.

“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.”

Where is the outrage? Why the silence?

Below is a column by Fabiola Santiago, a harsh critic of the President, warning Democrats that selecting Congresswoman Bash opens an opportunity for Trump to take Florida.

Finally, there is another report from the Committee to Protect Journalists concerning repression against a young woman seeking to be a news reporter. The last line states: ” Cuba ranked 10th on CPJ’s 2019 10 Most Censored list, the only country in the Americas to be included in the list.”

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., once said that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This would be something that both Democrats and Republicans should remember.

Committee to Protect Journalists, August 5, 2020

Cuban security forces detain Yadisley Rodríguez Ramírez, interrogate her about news agency director

August 5, 2020 4:08 PM EDT

Miami, August 5, 2020 — Cuban authorities should stop harassing and threatening journalist Yadisley Rodríguez Ramírez, and cease persecuting independent journalists in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On July 27, at around 10:00 p.m. police and security forces broke into the home of Rodríguez Ramírez in Camaguey in central Cuba without a court order, searched her home, confiscated two phones and a laptop, and detained her overnight, according to news reports and Normando Hernández, general manager of the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and of the Press (ICLEP), who spoke to CPJ via phone. Rodríguez Ramírez whereabouts were unknown until her release without charge the following day at around 4:00 p.m., according to Hernández.

“The arbitrary detention and interrogation by security forces of journalist Yadisley Rodríguez Ramírez is the latest example of Cuban authorities’ blatant disregard for newsgathering and due process,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna from New York. “Recent abuses of journalists in Cuba have once again sadly dispelled the notion that press freedom could improve under Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel.”

Rodríguez Ramírez works as a reporter for Palenque Visión, a Cuban news agency that produces video reporting for several independent outlets, including Cubanet and ADNCuba, according to information provided by Palenque Visión director Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina to ICLEP, which was shared with CPJ. 

In a video interview with Cubanet posted on YouTube, Rodríguez Ramírez said she was taken to the offices of the Interior Ministry, where she was held for 15 hours as officers interrogated her on the whereabouts of Rodríguez Lobaina, before letting her go with a warning. “[They told me] that I cannot do journalism work, that they are not going to allow any journalism work here,” Rodríguez Ramírez said, according to CPJ’s review of the video.

In addition to directing Palenque Visión, Rodríguez Lobaina is a political activist and director of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, a Cuban pro-democracy dissident group, according to Hernández. He told CPJ that it was not clear why authorities were looking for Rodríguez Lobaina, but added that the news agency director is constantly harassed by the regime because of his work with Palenque Visión and his political activism. 

Rodríguez Ramírez has been previously detained because of her reporting, including in March 2020, according to news reports and Rodríguez Lobaina’s communication with ICLEP. With regard to the reporter’s July 27 detention, Rodríguez Lobaina told ICLEP that “knowing the methods of the regime, it is clear that these actions seek that she no longer works as a journalist.”

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

Cuba ranked 10th on CPJ’s 2019 10 Most Censored list, the only country in the Americas to be included in the list.  


The Miami Herald, August 4, 2020

Karen Bass has a Cuba problem. If Biden picks her as VP, he’s gifting Florida to Trump | Opinion

By Fabiola Santiago

August 04, 2020  

Fidel Castro has risen from his oversized, corn-kernel-shaped tomb in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery to play a role in another American presidential election.

This time, Castro’s ghost looms over Democrat Joe Biden’s all-female short list of candidates for vice president.

“The passing of the comandante en jefe is a great loss to the people of Cuba,” said California congresswoman Karen Bass when Castro died on Nov. 25, 2016.


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The Miami Herald, August 3, 2020

Karen Bass calls praising Castro a mistake. Miamians say she shouldn’t be Biden’s VP.

By Alex Daugherty

California Rep. Karen Bass, who is on Joe Biden’s vice presidential short list, said she now realizes that referring to Fidel Castro as “comandante en jefe,” or commander in chief, after his death in 2016 was a mistake.

But her explanation — and longstanding ties to Cuba — are concerning to Biden’s Miami supporters as he enters the final phase of choosing a running mate. Biden said he will choose a vice president around August 8.