CubaBrief: Please take a moment to help save the life of prisoner of conscience Silverio Portal Contreras and sign a petition for academic freedom in Cuba

The Center for a Free Cuba took part in a social media campaign to highlight the plight of Cuban prisoner of conscience Silverio Portal Contreras on Monday, August 31, 2020.

His wife, the activist Lucinda González Gomez, who launched the initiative, asked everyone who wanted to demonstrate their solidarity with the situation of Silverio to put their photo on their profile in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social network accounts, to demonstrate to the Castro regime regime that “Silverio is all of us.”

Silverio Portal Contreras

Silverio Portal Contreras

According to Lucinda, her husband “can die at any moment.”

She also told Radio Martí that a letter with “more than 1,000 signatures” would be delivered to the Council of State in which the situation facing Silverio Portal Contreras in prison 1580, in Havana, is made known.

In a petition published on the Change.org website, more than 788 Cuban artists and activists are demanding the immediate freedom of Silverio, and it is still open for signature.

Among the signatories are the siblings Omara and Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, the activist Marthadela Tamayo, the independent artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the writer and artist Coco Fusco, and the journalist Iliana Hernández, among others.

The text of the petition indicates that Portal Contreras led the project “No more deaths in Cuba due to building collapses,” which requires state institutions to protect people who live in buildings in poor condition in their communities.

Portal Contreras was sentenced to four years in prison for alleged crimes of “public disorder” and “contempt” after leading several public protests demanding decent housing for all Cubans. He was arrested on June 20, 2016 in Havana and the court document states that “the behavior of the accused is particularly offensive because it took place in a touristic area.” The document further describes the accused as having “bad social and moral behavior” and mentions that he fails to participate in pro-government activities.According to Silverio’s wife, before his arrest he had campaigned against the collapse of dilapidated buildings in Havana. Silverio was recognized as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International on August 26, 2019. He was beaten by prison officials in mid-May 2020 and lost sight in one eye.

The wife of the activist, put out a desperate plea for help after receiving a call from her husband on June 10, 2020. “Silverio called me and put an official on the phone to explain the situation,” said Gonzalez Gomez to CubaNet. The official told her that “he was taken to the ophthalmologist and because of temporary loss of blood flow, he was losing sight in both eyes.”

The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) announced on July 23, 2020 that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted their request for precautionary measures for Silverio Portal Contreras. The request was submitted on June 5, 2020 and was granted on July 22, 2020. “Portal Contreras is in a situation of grave risk and the Cuban government should follow the IACHR’s recommendations to take measures necessary to protect his life and personal integrity,” stated Race and Equality.

Cubans are jailed in Cuba for exercising their human rights on matters of conscience such as Silverio Portal Contreras and the absence of freedom of conscience extends into the educational system. Omara Ruiz Urquiola was fired from her post in academia last August 2019 due to her dissenting views.

Cuban-Canadian historian and democracy activist Michael Lima Cuadra at DemocraticSpaces.com today circulated an English translation of a petition that calls for an end to the politicization of Cuba’s education system into a propaganda tool to maintain the 61 year old dictatorship. He cited a letter from August 2019 by Cuban academics challenging the August 15, 2019 statement by Martha Mesa Valenciano, the Deputy Minister of Higher Education who said: “those who do not feel activists of the revolutionary policies of our party, defender of our ideology, moral and political convictions should resign as university professor.”  The original petition in Spanish was circulated last year, but has been released now in English, and Lima Cuadra explains the reason for signing the petition.

I am signing this petition because I believe that when education is conditioned to political affiliations or ideologies it ceases to be a right and becomes a propaganda tool for power groups and political parties. I am also raising a voice against the exclusionary nature of the educational system in Cuba for the past 60 years. This process goes back to October of 1960 when university professors and students across Cuba were expelled from universities due to their criticism of the regime in power. This later became official policy when Fidel Castro said, “the university is for revolutionaries.” As evidenced by the numerous examples of university professors and students expelled from university in reprisal for their political ideas for the past decades, this discriminatory policy has been in place until the present time. 

 A university professor is not a propagandist and his role cannot be that of a spokesperson for a political party or a power elite. His role should be to educate and not indoctrinate. In democratic societies a professor encourages independent thinking and criticism in students, not conformity and adherence to official policies. 

I call on universities in Canada, the United States and other parts of the world to show solidarity with the signatories of this petition and raise a voice to condemn the exclusionary and discriminatory nature of the educational system in Cuba. 

Omara Ruiz Urquiola fired from academia and Martha Mesa Valenciano called for firing professors who aren't activists for the revolution

Omara Ruiz Urquiola fired from academia and Martha Mesa Valenciano called for firing professors who aren’t activists for the revolution

Democratic Spaces, August 31, 2020

SIGN A PETITION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION IN CUBA´S EDUCATION SYSTEM

DISCRMINACIÓN: SISTEMA EDUCATIVO EN CUBA

En Cuba, las declaraciones Martha Mesa Valenciano, viceministra Primera de Educación Superior declaró lo siguiente: “El que no se sienta activista de la política revolucionaria de nuestro Partido, un defensor de nuestra ideología, de nuestra moral, de nuestras convicciones políticas, debe renunciar a ser profesor universitario.”

In Cuba, the Deputy Minister of Higher Education recently said: “those who do not feel activists of the revolutionary policies of our party, defender of our ideology, moral and political convictions should resign as university professor”

Un grupo de profesores expresaron su rechazo a estas declaraciones en un documento titulado: “Carta al Gobierno de la República de Cuba, por estudiantes y profesores universitarios.

A group of professors expressed their rejection of these remarks in a petition circulating on Change.org titled “Letter to the Government of Cuba by Cuban professors and students.”

Here are my reasons for signing this petition. Mis razones para firmar esta petición:

———

Firmo esta petición porque cuando la educación es condicionada a afiliaciones políticas e ideologías deja de ser un derecho y se convierte en un arma de propaganda de un grupo de poder. Denuncio además que esta política de exclusión ha sido parte esencial del sistema educativo en Cuba desde octubre de 1960 cuando se iniciaron las depuraciones de profesores en universidades en todo el país para luego hacerse oficial la política impulsada por Fidel Castro de que ¨la universidad es para revolucionarios. ¨ Como evidencian los numerosos ejemplos de profesores y estudiantes universitarios expulsados por sus posturas políticas, esa política se mantiene hasta nuestros días. 

Un profesor no es un propagandista, ni debe servir los intereses de partido ni gobierno alguno. Su función debe ser educar, no adoctrinar. El profesor en cualquier nación democrática motiva el pensamiento independiente, el cuestionamiento y la critica en el estudiante. Motivo a las universidades de Canadá, los Estados Unidos y otras partes del mundo a mostrar solidaridad con los firmantes de este documento y condenar la naturaleza excluyente y discriminatoria de la educación en Cuba.  

I am signing this petition because I believe that when education is conditioned to political affiliations or ideologies it ceases to be a right and becomes a propaganda tool for power groups and political parties. I am also raising a voice against the exclusionary nature of the educational system in Cuba for the past 60 years. This process goes back to October of 1960 when university professors and students across Cuba were expelled from universities due to their criticism of the regime in power. This later became official policy when Fidel Castro said, “the university is for revolutionaries.” As evidenced by the numerous examples of university professors and students expelled from university in reprisal for their political ideas for the past decades, this discriminatory policy has been in place until the present time. 

 A university professor is not a propagandist and his role cannot be that of a spokesperson for a political party or a power elite. His role should be to educate and not indoctrinate. In democratic societies a professor encourages independent thinking and criticism in students, not conformity and adherence to official policies. 

I call on universities in Canada, the United States and other parts of the world to show solidarity with the signatories of this petition and raise a voice to condemn the exclusionary and discriminatory nature of the educational system in Cuba. 

Michael Lima Cuadra

DemocraticSpaces.com

https://democraticspaces.com/blog/2020/8/31/sign-a-petition-against-discrimination-in-cubas-education-system

In case you missed it.

Race and Equality, July 23, 2020

IACHR grants Race and Equality’s request for precautionary measures for Cuban political prisoner Silverio Portal Contreras

Washington, D.C.  July 23, 2020.- The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) is pleased that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has granted our request for precautionary measures for Silverio Portal Contreras. The request was submitted on June 5, 2020 and was granted this Wednesday. Portal Contreras is in a situation of grave risk and the Cuban government should follow the IACHR’s recommendations to take measures necessary to protect his life and personal integrity.

Silverio Portal Contreras is a Cuban political prisoner who was arrested in July 2018 while participating in a public protest. He is an independent activist who has supported various movements in Cuba, including the Ladies in White and the Opposition Movement for a New Republic. While in prison, his health has suffered significantly. He has suffered from thrombosis and consecutive ischemic attacks and transient ischemic attacks (TIA) that have left him partially paralyzed and with reduced eyesight because he did not receive adequate treatment for the conditions. His eyesight is also affected by a cardiac condition and because he was beaten in prison by prison authorities.

In a resolution in October 2019 denying Portal Contreras medical parole, the Provincial Tribunal of Havana recognized that Portal Contreras suffers from health conditions that put his health and life at risk, such as hypertension, ischemic cardiovascular disease, hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia, and that he therefore requires “specialized follow-up to maintain his illnesses.” However, the judges decided that his state of health is “compatible with the penitentiary regime.”

Race and Equality filed for precautionary measures on Portal Contreras’ behalf after his wife, Lucinda Gonzalez Gomez, informed us that she had stopped receiving her scheduled telephone calls with Portal Contreras after he reported experiencing another TIA. Gonzalez Gomez also received several calls from other prisoners reporting that Portal Contreras had been severely beaten by prison authorities and placed in an isolation cell. The prisoners also told her that Portal Contreras was losing his eyesight because of the beating and lack of medical attention. At the time the precautionary measure request was submitted at the beginning of June, Gonzalez Gomez had had no communication with her husband for several weeks and feared for his life.

In the resolution granting the precautionary measures, the IACHR recognized the extreme situation of risk Portal Contreras is in, noting the “special severity” of the allegations given that the perpetrators are the same state authorities responsible for his care as a prisoner. The IACHR also noted the damaging and permanent effects the failure of the State to provide Portal Contreras with medical care can have, given his condition. The context faced by human rights defenders in Cuba was also a significant factor, which the IACHR described as being “characterized generally by a climate of hostility, persecution, and harassment, particularly with respect to those who have manifested opposition to the government.”

Although the granting of precautionary measures is an important step in drawing international attention to Portal Contreras’ case, he is still very much at risk. Prison authorities continue to deny Portal Contreras the medical care he needs. On Wednesday, Gonzalez Gomez received a call from her husband informing her that he is not receiving the medication he needs for a heart condition, and as a result is losing sight in both eyes. The prison doctor denies that Portal Contreras has a heart condition.

Race and Equality calls on the Cuban government to implement the recommendations the IACHR made in the resolution granting precautionary measures to Portal Contreras, including conducting an investigation to avoid repetition of similar events. Race and Equality is open for dialogue with the Cuban government to help implement these measures. We also urge the international community to follow Portal Contreras’ case and pressure the Cuban government to provide him with the medical care he needs and to release him from prison.

Read the Resolution (in Spanish) here.

https://raceandequality.org/english/iachr-grants-race-and-equalitys-request-for-precautionary-measures-for-cuban-political-prisoner-silverio-portal-contreras/