CubaBrief: The Sounds of Liberty in Cuba, the failure of the EU Ambassador to Cuba, and the desperate call for help for Cuban political prisoners

James Freeman in his February 26, 2021 column in The Wall Street Journal, “The Sound of Liberty in Cuba: A new challenge to the Marxist regime” sounds an optimistic note with the song Patria y Vida and the wider phenomenon of the San Isidro and 27N Movements protesting censorship in Cuba and activists successfully (although temporarily)  renaming the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana to the Plaza de la Libertad. 

However, this week marked 25 years since the Brothers to the Rescue Massacre, an act of state terrorism carried out by the Castro regime on February 24, 1996 instantly killing Armando Alejandre Jr.,45 years old, Carlos Alberto Costa, age 29, Mario Manuel de la Peña, age 24, and Pablo Morales, age 29.

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On February 24, 2021 the Washington DC market woke up to advertisements on Politico and Apple News linking to a letter sent certified mail to President Biden on February 2, 2021 by the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance (ARC), a coalition of pro-democracy groups inside and outside Cuba . The Center for a Free Cuba is a member, and signatory to the letter. The letter seeks to hold President Biden to one of his campaign promises, that of listening to Cuban Americans to whom he referred to as the “Ambassadors of Freedom for Cuba”.

Engagement with dictatorships for the sake of engagement without democratic and human rights principles can degenerate into complicity. This is the apparent situation with EU Ambassador Alberto Navarro in Cuba. Politico’s Hans von der Burchard in his February 25, 2021 article “MEPs urge EU to fire ambassador to Cuba” has the disturbing subheadline: “Diplomat accused of siding with ‘regime that neither respects nor defends human rights.’”

This failure led to a “cross-party group of 16 MEPs, including senior lawmakers” to urge “EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to sack the bloc’s ambassador to Cuba for allegedly siding with the country’s Communist leadership.” The trouble is that Mr. Borrell is guilty of the same behavior. In Moscow on February 5, 2021 in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded to the Russians whataboutism on Cuba by echoing the Russian position against the United States embargo that drew criticism from his partners in Europe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell

Meanwhile in Cuba’s prisons, that have not had a visit from the International Committee of the Red Cross in decades, prisoners of conscience continue to languish in cruel and inhuman conditions, and some of them are dying, and others have already died. The Center for a Free Cuba is calling attention to four critical cases.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo died eleven years ago on February 23, 2010 after years of physical and psychological torture that drove this Amnesty International prisoner of conscience to go on hunger strike. That prison officials periodically denied him water, during his water only hunger strike, contributed to his death.

Other Cuban dissidents have died while in the custody of Cuban prison officials. Recently the Center for a Free Cuba (CFC) denounced the death of Yósvany Aróstegui Armenteros on August 7, 2020 following a long hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment. 

“The Center is extremely concerned for the safety of Yandier García Labrada, Keilylli de la Mora Valle, Josiel Guía Piloto, and Virgilio Mantilla Arango. CFC also recognizes there are many more who are unjustly jailed.  We fear for the lives of these political prisoners, and that tragically another prisoner of conscience perish due to the unduly cruel and harsh prison conditions.

The Wall Street Journal, February. 26, 2021

The Sound of Liberty in Cuba

A new challenge to the Marxist regime.

By James Freeman

Yotuel Romero, among the creators of the song ''Patria y Vida,” describes the Cuban regime’s abuse of human rights on Thursday in Madrid, Spain.Photo: Eduardo Parra/Zuma Press

Yotuel Romero, among the creators of the song ”Patria y Vida,” describes the Cuban regime’s abuse of human rights on Thursday in Madrid, Spain.

Photo: Eduardo Parra/Zuma Press

Thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet military empire, one of the world’s remaining communist dictatorships is facing a fresh challenge to its authority. And it couldn’t sound any sweeter.

Agence France-Presse reports:

In Cuba, where music and revolution are intertwined, a song by rappers boldly denouncing the communist government has found viral appeal online — but angered a regime that keeps close tabs on culture.

The song is called, “Patria y Vida,” or “Homeland and Life,” and has logged more than two million views on Alphabet, Inc.’s YouTube. Sarah Marsh and Rodrigo Gutierrez of Reuters have more on the popular new anticommunist anthem and the Miami-based musicians who helped make it happen:

Gente de Zona, Yotuel of hip-hop band Orishas fame and singer-songwriter Descemer Bueno collaborated on the song with two rappers in Cuba, Maykel Osorbo and El Funky, who are part of a dissident artists’ collective that sparked an unusual protest against repression outside the culture ministry last November.

“Homeland and Life” repurposes the old slogan “Patria o Muerte” (“Homeland or Death”) emblazoned on walls across the Caribbean country ever since Fidel Castro’s 1959 leftist revolution and expresses frustration with being required to make sacrifices in the name of ideology for 62 years.

“It’s over,” says the song’s chorus. What’s most striking is the song’s direct demand for freedom and blunt challenge to the dictatorship and its lies. “Advertising a paradise,” sing the performers, “while mothers cry for their departed children.”

Nora Gámez Torres notes in the Miami Herald:

Yotuel Romero, a singer with the band Orishas and the brain behind the project, told the Miami Herald that the song is part of an “awakening of Cuban youth.”

“It was important to tell the world that Cubans today, we want life, that the doctrine that came out in ‘59 belongs to that moment,” Romero said…

This time, the song appears to have made Cuban authorities so nervous that state media have launched a campaign to combat its message and discredit its authors.

Naturally, the Cuban dictatorship is also able to distribute its Marxist propaganda via Twitter and the other U.S. social-media platforms that habitually censor Americans. But until Silicon Valley starts cracking down on Cuban dissidents, the Havana regime may not be strong enough to suppress the sound of liberty. Ms. Torres reports:

The uber popularity of those who perform in “Patria y Vida” — Grammy award winners with a global audience and, at the same time, hip-hop and reggaeton stars in Cuba — as well as the delicate political and economic moment the country is going through, help explain both the instant success the song has become and the government’s angry reaction.

Those praying for the end of the communist regime have been disappointed for decades. But in December the Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady noted the new phenomenon of artists and musicians increasingly refusing to remain silent:

In a telephone interview last week I asked Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of the leaders of the dissident San Isidro Movement in Havana, what he thinks of Fidel Castro.

His answer stunned me not because I disagreed but because challenging the godlike myth of the comandante, alive or dead, has always been taboo.

“For me he was a bad person, and what he did is not justified by what he did in things like health care,” the 33-year-old performance artist said. “If you repress someone because they wrote a poem you don’t like or you arrest young people continually, you are not a good person. This repression has destroyed the lives of intellectuals.”

Lots of Cubans will tell you similar things privately, but few have dared utter them in public. Until now.

Mr. Otero Alcántara appears in the video for the new song. Ms. O’Grady noted in December that in her conversation with the artist, she “couldn’t shake the feeling of something new unfolding.”

That feeling now has a sound.

***

Also in the Miami Herald, Syra Ortiz-Blanes reports that this week Cuban dissidents were briefly able to use Google to undermine the communist dictatorship before the Alphabet subsidiary restored the regime’s preferences:

For a few hours, Cuba’s storied Revolutionary Square, where Fidel Castro once gave hours-long speeches to the masses, had a different name on Google Maps this week: Freedom Plaza.

A group of Cubans on the island and in the diaspora launched a campaign to change the name of the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana to the Plaza de la Libertad — and succeeded, though only temporarily.

User requests for the switch made it through Google’s system, the company confirmed, but were eventually flagged and the name reverted back to its revolutionary idiom.

Osmani Pardo, a Cuba-based activist, said the loose-knit network, whose exact size is unknown, aims to empower the Cuban people to assign new words and language to government-run institutions.

Now this is the kind of renaming project all Americans should support. Certainly few historical figures are more deserving of cancellation than the murderous Castro.

Imagine if social media networks could somehow be used to undermine tyrants and open closed societies. But how?

***

Mr. Freeman is the co-author of “The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival.”

***

Follow James Freeman on Twitter and Parler.

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To suggest items, please email best@wsj.com.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-sound-of-liberty-in-cuba-11614366025

Politico, February 25, 2021

MEPs urge EU to fire ambassador to Cuba

Diplomat accused of siding with ‘regime that neither respects nor defends human rights.’

EU Ambassador in Cuba Alberto Navarro | STR/AFP via Getty Images

EU Ambassador in Cuba Alberto Navarro | STR/AFP via Getty Images

By Hans von der Burchard

February 25, 2021 11:17 pm

A cross-party group of 16 MEPs, including senior lawmakers, urged EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to sack the bloc’s ambassador to Cuba for allegedly siding with the country’s Communist leadership.

“We, the undersigned, wish to express our bewilderment and disapproval of the unusual and recurrent conduct of the Ambassador of the European Union in Cuba, Mr. Alberto Navarro,” reads a letter dated Wednesday and signed by MEPs from the European People’s Party (EPP), Renew Europe and the European Conservatives and Reformists groups.

“We consider that the current ambassador is not worthy of the high functions he holds and is entrusted with and we strongly request you to proceed with his immediate replacement,” wrote the signatories, who include the European Parliament’s vice president for relations with Latin America, Dita Charanzová, the vice chair of the EPP group, Esteban González Pons, and EPP Secretary-General Antonio López-Istúriz White.

The lawmakers said Navarro signed a letter “to none other than the President of the United States,” Joe Biden, “requesting, among other matters, the lifting of the U.S. embargo on the island … as well as the non-interference in Cuban affairs.”

“This constitutes a serious act in a totally unfortunate and erratic line of action regarding what should be the defense of our interests and values,” the letter reads. “Such a behavior, in addition to being inappropriate, is completely alien to the functions and standards of conduct that should govern a diplomatic representative of the EU, with the aggravating circumstance that it allows him to address a government of a third country, a friend and ally of the EU, to which he is not accredited.”

It adds: “It could be said that our ambassador in Havana takes political positions in line with a regime that neither respects nor defends human rights or democratic plurality and allows himself liberties more typical of a political leader than of a diplomatic representative.”

The EU previously condemned the Trump administration for re-enforcing business and travel restrictions on Cuba that had been loosened by Barack Obama. But there has been pressure from the European Parliament to find a joint position with the U.S. on Cuba since Biden entered the White House.

Foreign policy chief Borrell, however, publicly criticized the U.S. embargo during a press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov earlier this month.

The letter also accused the ambassador of other missteps, such as obstructing the participation of regime-critical Cubans in a Parliament hearing.

A spokesperson for Borrell could not be reached for a comment on the MEPs’ letter.

https://www.politico.eu/article/meps-demand-resignation-of-eu-ambassador-to-cuba-over-unacceptable-behavior/


Assembly of the Resistance, February 24, 2021

“AMBASSADORS OF FREEDOM FOR CUBA”
PRESENT AND READY FOR PROACTIVE ROLE IN CUBA’S FREEDOM

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Miami, Florida – February 24, 2021- Assembly of the Cuban Resistance- By mail, prominent ads, social media, direct mail and more, the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance (ARC), a coalition of pro-democracy groups inside and outside Cuba, is holding President Biden to one of his campaign promises, that of listening to Cuban Americans to whom he referred to as the “Ambassadors of Freedom for Cuba”.

Today, on the 25th Anniversary of the Brothers to the Rescue Massacre, the DC market will be waking up to ads on Politico and Apple News linking to a letter sent certified mail to President Biden on February 2, 2021. Authored by the same Cuban-Cuban American groups who were totally left in the dark back in 2015 by the Obama/Biden administration. Cuban-Cuban American groups had no knowledge that behind the scenes, the U.S. had been privately meeting, negotiating, and giving painful and unwarranted concessions to the criminal regime in Cuba all under the auspices of a false claim of “change”. The input of Cuban-Cuban American groups was tossed aside back then in lieu of that of opportunists willing to turn a blind eye to human rights violations inside Cuba and abroad. It was a surreal time for people that knew first-hand the atrocities being committed by those very regime officials seemingly being embraced by U.S. elected officials.

It is with that experience in mind that Cuban-Cuban American groups played close attention recently to the words of then Presidential Candidate Biden when asked about Cuba policy. He emphatically stated numerous times that when it came to Cuba policy, he would listen to Cuban Americans, as he put it, they were “the Ambassadors to Cuba’s Freedom.” Given his pledge, ARC submitted the attached letter to President Biden and is now following up with the ad buy in Politico this week, a direct mail campaign and other outreach means with the objective of making certain that President Biden’s campaign promise on the inclusion of Cuban Americans on U.S. Cuba Policy is kept.

Below is the text of the letter and attached in this e-mail is the letter in PDF.

February 2, 2021

Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

President of the United States of America

The White House

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Biden:

Today we are writing to express our deep concern for the critical situation that the Cuban people are facing after living under communism for more than 62 years. Recently, after a new assessment of its previous and new transgressions of international laws,Cuba was placed again on the list of states that sponsor terrorism. It must remain there because of the many terrorist activities that have defined the Cuban regime all these years.

On February 24,1996, Castro MIG fighters ambushed and slaughtered three American citizens and one U.S. permanent resident in international air space. The four young men were volunteer pilots and spotters trying to save the lives of desperate refugees at sea who were trying to escape from communism in Cuba. To this date, Raul Castro and the other perpetrators in this brutal act remain unpunished.

The above-mentioned massacre of February 24, 1996 is only one of the many terrorist acts committed by the totalitarian regime in Cuba. The regime has institutionalized terror in both its domestic and international practices. The murder of political prisoners and dissidents, outright violent persecution against civil society, and the repression of the most fundamental human rights and freedoms remain mainstays of the Cuban police state.

Internationally, the regime continues a close alliance with states and non-states actors that sponsor terrorism, such as Venezuela,Syria, North Korea, Iran as well as FARC, ELN, Hezbollah and Mexican cartels.It also maintains direct participation in the lethal repression in support of the dictatorial regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua and facilitates through them several safe havens, weapons and political support to those narcoterrorists organizations for their criminal and illicit activities in the region. Cuba also protects scores of fugitives from U.S. justice.

Most worrisome has been the use of microwave pulse weapons used by the regime against U.S. and Canadian diplomats stationed in Havana causing, in some cases, irreparable physical damage. These attacks have been documented by the U.S. Academy of Sciences and other medical experts.

Today the Cuban people are at a historic crossroads because the regime is facing a devastating crisis in the economic, political, and social fields. Whereas the temptation may be to deal with the symptoms of the dictatorship, such as political prisoners and refugees, we urge you instead to deal with the causes of the political, economic, cultural and social repression. The principal deterrent to a change in Cuba is to stop the sense of impunity that the Communist dictatorship has always displayed despite the numerous crimes against humanity it has committed.

It is because of the record of atrocities perpetrated by the Cuban regime that we urge you, as representatives of a united community, to maintain Cuba on the list of states sponsors of terrorism. By any rational standard measure, the Castro-ruled regime belongs on that list.Please let us know if we can be of assistance in matters concerning Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

Respectfully,

Organizations of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance

Alpha 66

Assembly of the Cuban Resistance California

Association of Cubans in Dominican Republic

Association of Cuban Ex-Political Prisoners and Cuban Exiles in Tampa

Bay of Pigs Veterans Association

Casa Cuba in Houston

Center for a Free Cuba

Circulos Democraticos Municipalistas de Cuba

Circulo Naval Cubano

Coalition of Cuban-American Women

Cuba Independent and Democratic

Cuban Civic Committee in Chicago

Cuban Civic Resistance National Front

Cuban Democratic Directorate

Cuban Democratic Directorate in Tampa

Cuban Liberty Council

Ex-Club

Freedom League

Grupo Internacional de Responsabilidad Corporativa

Human Rights Rapporteurs Council in Cuba

Inspire America Foundation

IVAC, Venezuela

Junta Democratica Dominicana

Ladies in White

Miami Medical Team

Mothers Against Repression (Mar por Cuba)

Movimiento de Recuperacion Revolucionaria (MRR)

Movimiento Democracia

November 30 Movement Frank Pais

North Front 380 Nicaragua

Partido Union Nacional

Plantados Hasta la Libertad y la Democracia en Cuba

Presidio Politico Pedro Luis Boitel

The Cuba Corps

Union de Ex Presos Politicos Cubanos de Puerto Rico

Union de Ex Presos Politicos Zona Norte

United Front of Western Cuba

Vueltabajo for Cuba Foundation

https://www.cubacenter.org/articles-and-events/2021/2/26/letter-to-president-biden-on-us-cuba-policy-by-the-assembly-of-the-cuban-resistance


Center for a Free Cuba, February 23, 2021

Orlando Zapata Tamayo died 11 years ago today. Four Cuban political prisoners now at risk of suffering a similar fate.

 February 23, 2021

Orlando Zapata Tamayo died eleven years ago on February 23, 2010 after years of physical and psychological torture that drove this Amnesty International prisoner of conscience to die on hunger strike. That prison officials periodically denied him water, during his water only hunger strike, adds to the outrage surrounding his death. 

Other Cuban dissidents have died while in the custody of Cuban prison officials. Recently the Center for a Free Cuba (CFC) denounced the death of Yósvany Aróstegui Armenteros on August 7, 2020 following a long hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment.

“The Center is extremely concerned for the safety of Yandier García Labrada, Keilylli de la Mora Valle, Josiel Guía Piloto, and Virgilio Mantilla Arango. CFC also recognizes there are many more who are unjustly jailed.  We fear for the lives of these political prisoners, and that tragically another prisoner of conscience perish due to the unduly cruel and harsh prison conditions. The International Committee of the Red Cross has not been able to visit Cuba’s prisons in decades, despite repeated requests,” said John Suarez, executive director of CFC. Today, the Center shared these cases with international human rights organizations in an urgent appeal for these lives at risk.

Yandier García Labrada, a member of the Christian Liberation Movement, has been arbitrarily detained since October 7, 2020 for complaining about poor service at a grocery in the town of Manatí, where he lives. On January 7, 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted a precautionary measure for Yandier García Labrada that they consider is “in a serious and urgent situation, given that his rights to life and personal integrity are at risk of irreparable harm.”

Yandier García Labrada

Yandier García Labrada

Keilylli de la Mora Valle is a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) who was arrested on April 12, 2020, according to Human Rights Watch for ” not wearing her face mask properly. At the police station, de la Mora Valle began to strip off her clothes in protest. An officer grabbed her by the neck, took her into a cell, and kicked her repeatedly in the thigh and knee.” In a May 7, 2020 trial without legal representation she was sentenced “to a year and a half in prison for ‘contempt’, ‘resistance’, ‘disobedience’, and ‘spreading an epidemic'”, reported Human Rights Watch on December 7, 2020.  The IACHR granted Keilylli de la Mora Vallea a precautionary measure on July 17, 2020 raising concerns that her “rights to life and personal integrity are at risk of irreparable harm.” 

Keilylli de la Mora Valle

Keilylli de la Mora Valle

Josiel Guía Piloto, president of the Republican Party of Cuba, is serving a five year-sentence for having criticized Fidel Castro on December 1, 2016. Amnesty International has recognized him as a prisoner of conscience. “On June 11, [2018] prisoner of conscience Josiel Guia Piloto, a member of the Republican Party of Cuba, suffered a collapsed lung after being beaten by prison guards, according to his mother. Political prisoners also reported that fellow inmates, acting on orders from or with the permission of prison authorities, threatened, beat, intimidated, and harassed them,” reported the 2019 State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cuba. The IACHR issued a precautionary measure for Josiel in 2019.

Josiel Guía Piloto

Josiel Guía Piloto

Virgilio Mantilla Arango, a recognized opposition leader in Camaguey, was arrested and condemned to 7 months in prison last December, 2020. He was “plantado” on a hunger strike for several weeks protesting his arbitrary arrest and trial. Mantilla Arango “was sentenced to seven months in prison for the alleged crime of hoarding.” The opposition activist was previously arrested for distributing historical documents to the population such as the Montecristi Manifesto signed by José Martí and Máximo Gómez at the start of the War of 1895. On Thursday February 18, 2021 he was transferred to Kilo 8 Prison. This fact is concerning the internal opposition and human rights organizations because it was at that prison where Zapata was tortured and denied water, and Arostegui too, both died on hunger strikes.

Virgilio Mantilla Arango

Virgilio Mantilla Arango

Yesterday, eleven years after Orlando Zapata’s death on hunger strike, provoked by repeatedly denying him water, human rights violations, torture and mistreatment continue in Cuba’s prisons against both prisoners of conscience and prisoners generally. The Center condemns these practices, demands justice and truth for the victims and their families, and freedom for all of Cuba’s political prisoners. 

https://www.cubacenter.org/articles-and-events/2021/2/26/center-for-a-free-cuba-issues-alert-on-situation-of-four-cuban-political-prisoners