CubaBrief: 24 Cuban human rights defenders mark 20 days on hunger strike in Cuba and raising awareness on human rights violations in the island

​Twenty four Cuban human rights defenders marked 20 days on hunger strike in Cuba on April 8, 2021. Led by Jose Daniel Ferrer, they went on hunger strike on March 20, 2021 to protest Castro regime agents preventing hungry Cubans from getting desperately needed food at the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in Santiago de Cuba.

Hunger strikers in Santiago de Cuba on their 20th day.

Hunger strikers in Santiago de Cuba on their 20th day.

Hatzel Vela of Local reported on April 6th that “Ferrer, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, also known as UNPACU, said they are defending their right to be able to deliver food and medication to a group of about 250 Santiago de Cuba residents. The need for aid has risen during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Cuban exile doctors on Thursday, April 8th at 10:00am held a press conference in Miami, expressing their concerns for the lives of the hunger strikers and launching a petition directed at international human rights institutions ( International Committee of the Red Cross, World Health Organization, Pan American Health Organization, and the World Medical Association) calling on them to ask the Castro regime to end the repression that has led to the protest signed by over thirty medical doctors. They are gathering signatures now.

Later in the day the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs on April 8th at 2:00pm expressed concern for “the worsening situation in Santiago de Cuba” and “the health of those involved. We urge the Cuban government to take steps to deescalate the situation and respect the rights of expression and assembly.” John Suarez responded, thanking them “for highlighting the plight of hunger strikers in Cuba,” but requested that they “bring a spotlight on the need of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to have access to the hunger strikers, and to prisoners in Cuba generally.” He added the disturbing data point that the ICRC has “not been allowed to visit since 1989.”

The State Department released an excellent report on the human rights situation in Cuba on March 30, 2021, but left out the question of property rights that drew attention, and raised some questions about priorities, but it was far more comprehensive than the Amnesty International 2020/2021 The State of the World’s Human Rights on Cuba released on April 7th that focused lightly on repression of dissent, and in more detail on freedom of expression, but made no mention of extrajudicial killings in Cuba.

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

Cuban police shot Hansel E. Hernández, age 27, in the back, killing him, cracking down on an attempt by civil society to protest the killing, and organizing their own “heroes of the blue” social media campaign to promote Cuban police.

Or the death on hunger strike of Cuban dissident and political prisoner Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros on August 7, 2020 in Cuba while in police custody following a 40 day hunger strike. He had been jailed on false charges in the Kilo 8 prison of Camagüey. His body was quickly cremated by the dictatorship.

Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros died on hunger strike on August 7, 2020

Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros died on hunger strike on August 7, 2020

The veteran human rights organization also included a “right to food” section but failed to discuss the regime’s internal blockade against Cubans producing their own food, and other products due to the Cuban dictatorship’s ideology and belief in central planning, or that the United States has an exemption in its economic sanctions for food and medicine that are both sold to and donated in Cuba. Nor did Amnesty International mention the petition by Cuban civil society in March 2020 calling on the dictatorship to end the internal blockade against Cuban nationals that has garnered over 23,000 signatures. Petitioners are demanding some “minimal starting gestures.”

*Order the end of the “prohibited” and “regulated” categories of people, so that thousands of doctors, sports figures, artists and citizens in general can enter and leave Cuba, in recognition of natural rights that cannot be denied to anyone.

*Lower the prices or suspend the payments for all ETECSA communications for three months.

*Suspend the high custom fees to facilitate a Cuban-to-Cuban humanitarian bridge that would permit the importation of large amounts of food and medicines, as well as farm equipment, production equipment for small businesses, transport and cargo vehicles, seeds, fertilizer, clothes, shoes and food of all types.

Equally surprising was the failure to mention how Havana seized a shipment of humanitarian assistance for 15,000 Cuban families in August 2020 that never arrived to those many in need.

There are consequences to these omissions in reporting. Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred in an interview with ESPN during an exhibition game in 2016 in Havana between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, “Manfred exulted how Cuba is “a place where we would want to play regularly” and that “at a minimum” he’d like to start playing regular-season games in Havana, and eventually have an MLB team based on the Communist island,” quoted Marc A. Thiessen in his April 8, 2021 OpEd in The Washington Post.

Baseball connection Angel Castro, the late dictator Fidel Castro’s son.

Baseball connection Angel Castro, the late dictator Fidel Castro’s son.

Worse yet, in December 2018 Major League Baseball announced that they would go into partnership with the Cuban Baseball Federation. According to Reuters at the time, “MLB teams will pay the Cuban Baseball Federation a release fee for each player to be signed from Cuba.” How big will this release fee be? Will Cuban baseball players have to give up a big chunk of their salaries, like Cuban doctors have had to do? Fidel Castro’s son, Antonio Castro, runs the Cuban Baseball Federation and likes to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous while Cuban players on the island live modestly. Cuban doctors are allegedly victims of human trafficking according to experts at the United Nations. Would Major League Baseball in collaborating with the Cuban dictatorship engage in trafficking of players?

There are consequences to the silences and omissions that appear in some human rights reports. Dictatorships believe they can act with impunity, and human rights defenders are forced into extreme actions such as a hunger strike.

Local, April 6, 2021

30 Cubans began hunger strike on March 20 to protest human rights violations, activists say

Hatzel Vela, Reporter
Published: April 6, 2021, 5:22 pm


MIAMI – In a pre-recorded message from Cuba, José Daniel Ferrer said he and others decided to start a hunger strike on March 20 to protest human rights violations.

The prominent Cuban opposition leader said about 30 people are involved in the protest. That was down from 47 on Thursday. Most of them are on the eastern side of the island.

Ferrer, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, also known as UNPACU, said they are defending their right to be able to deliver food and medication to a group of about 250 Santiago de Cuba residents. The need for aid has risen during the coronavirus pandemic.

Their supporters in and out of the island said they want the international community to stand against the Cuban government’s repression. They accuse the Cuban government of infringing on their freedom of thought, expression, assembly, and association.


“These activists felt that they had to do the hunger strike until the police harassment stops,” Rosa Maria Payá said.

The UNPACU headquarters were besieged by the Cuban police, Payá said. She is the leader of the Cuba Decide organization and the daughter of the late Oswaldo Payá, the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement.

“These activists … are now at risk of death,” Payá said.

Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat, the co-founder of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, a Miami-based organization that supports human rights, said the U.S. sanctions are working.

Gutierrez-Boronat said they are impeding the ability of Raul Castro, the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, and Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel to fully oppress dissent.

“There is a growing discontent in the population and a great loss of fear,” Gutierrez-Boronat said.

A group of human rights activists continued a hunger strike on Tuesday in Cuba. (Courtesy of UNPACU)

A group of human rights activists continued a hunger strike on Tuesday in Cuba. (Courtesy of UNPACU)

The U.S. State Department released a report earlier this month alleging Cuban government officials, at the direction of their superiors, commit most human rights abuses on the island.

The official report also said Cuban officials were involved in “killings and forced disappearances,” “compulsory labor” and also in the torture of political prisoners.

The Cuban government denied the allegations made in the U.S. report on human rights in Cuba and a Cuban official said on Monday that it was full of lies.

Here are some statements from the U.S. report:

  • “Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.”

  • “The government subjected domestic human rights advocates to intimidation, harassment, periodic short-term detention, and long-term imprisonment on questionable charges.”

  • “Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.”

  • “Security officials often refused to take serious action on cases of sexual violence, including several cases where security officials were themselves implicated.”

  • “Afro-Cubans often suffered racial discrimination, and some were subject to racial epithets and beatings by security agents in response to political activity.”

  • “Elections were neither free nor fair nor competitive.”

  • “The government suppressed attempts to form other parties.”

  • “The government forcefully and consistently retaliated against those who sought peaceful political change.”

  • “Criminal libel laws were used against persons who criticized government leadership.”

  • “The government engaged in censorship and internet site blocking.”

Related link: Here is the U.S. Department of State’s latest report on human rights in Cuba

Copyright 2021 by WPLG

Amnesty International, April 7, 2021

Cuba 2020


Amid reports of food scarcity, the authorities continued to repress all forms of dissent, including by imprisoning independent artists, journalists and members of the political opposition.

Right to food

Throughout the year there were reports of scarcity of food and other basic goods, leading senior government officials to call on Cubans to grow more of their own food. In September, artist “Yulier P” graffitied a haunting image of someone eating their own bones on the streets of the capital, Havana.

Despite the UN’s recommendation that sanctions be waived to ensure access to food and essential medical supplies to adequately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USA continued to impose its economic embargo on the country.

Repression of dissent

Authorities continued to clamp down on all forms of dissent, imprisoning political leaders, independent journalists and artists.

In April, the authorities released José Daniel Ferrer García, leader of the unofficial political opposition group Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and former prisoner of conscience, who had been imprisoned in October 2019 and tried on 26 February in a trial tainted by irregularities.1 The Cuban authorities had prevented the press, the EU and Amnesty International from monitoring his trial.

Freedom of expression

Reports of independent journalists fined for reporting on COVID-19 and its impact on the country prompted calls for President Miguel Díaz-Canel to take immediate measures to guarantee press freedom.2 Civil society and journalists also expressed concern during the year that Decree-Law 370, a law related to online expression, appeared to tighten the Cuban government’s network of control and censorship online, especially during the pandemic.

In March, Cubanet journalist Camila Acosta was arrested for hours and given a fine for sharing information on Facebook. In September, she was arrested again and threatened with further prosecution for protesting Decree 370. On 4 September, the authorities released independent journalist with Cubanet, Roberto Quiñones Haces, aged 63. He had been tried in 2019 and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for “resistance” and “disobedience” because of his work as a journalist. Amnesty international, Article 19, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and the Committee to Protect Journalists called consistently for his release, especially in the context of his heighted risk from COVID-19 as a person with underlying medical conditions and over the age of 60. Roberto Quiñones had published articles about his prison conditions, including overcrowding, poor food and water quality, and lack of adequate medical care.3

Throughout the year, authorities harassed and intimidated members of the San Isidro Movement – composed of artists, poets, LGBTI activists, academics and independent journalists. Its members were at the forefront of challenging Decree 349 that stands to censor artists. The authorities’ actions symbolized Cuba’s ongoing repression of the right to freedom of expression in the country.4

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a key leader in the movement, was jailed for two weeks in March, having reportedly been charged with “insults to symbols of the homeland” (Article 203 of the Penal Code), an offence inconsistent with international human rights law and standards, and “damage” to property (Article 339).5

In November, the San Isidro Movement garnered international attention when members went on hunger strike to demand the release of rapper Denis Solís González, who had been sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment for “contempt”, a crime also inconsistent with international human rights standards.

Following a police raid on the headquarters of the movement in Old Havana – which according to Cuba’s official newspaper was carried out due to alleged violations of COVID-19 related health protocols – authorities took Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara into custody again for several days, and detained academic Anamely Ramos González for approximately 12 hours.6

In response to the raid, on 27 November, hundreds of artists and intellectuals staged a rare protest outside the Ministry of Culture and secured an equally unusual audience with the Vice Minister of Culture.

For approximately two weeks after the meeting, members of the movement, including Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Anamely Ramos González, and approximately 10 or more activists and independent journalists were subjected to constant surveillance and faced arrest by police and state security officials if they left their houses, essentially amounting to house arrest, in violation of international law.7

  1. Cuba: Opposition leader sentenced to house arrest after trial tainted by irregularities (Press release, 3 April)

  2. Cuba: Authorities must guarantee press freedom in the COVID-19 era (Press release, 2 May)

  3. Cuba: Prisoner of Conscience at risk of COVID-19: Roberto Quiñones Haces (AMR 25/2210/2020)

  4. Cuba: Harassment of San Isidro movement exemplifies ongoing assault on freedom of expression (Press release, 20 November)

  5. Cuba: Artist opposing censorship at risk: Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara (AMR 25/2028/2020)

  6. Cuba: Amnesty International calls for release of two San Isidro prisoners of conscience (Press release, 27 November 2020)

  7. Cuba: San Isidro movement and allies under frightening levels of surveillance (Press release, 15 December 2020)

The Washington Post, April 8, 2021

Opinion: Georgia isn’t in line with the MLB’s values. But Cuba and China are?

Opinion by Marc A. Thiessen


April 8, 2021 at 3:19 p.m. EDT

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced last Friday that “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft” away from Atlanta. Apparently, Georgia’s new election law — whose net effect, The Post’s Fact Checker blog found, “was to expand the opportunities to vote for most Georgians, not limit them” — was such a violation of baseball’s values that the exhibition game could not be played there.

But apparently it wasn’t a violation of baseball’s values to hold an exhibition game in 2016 in Havana between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team. In an interview with ESPN during that game, Manfred exulted how Cuba is “a place where we would want to play regularly” and that “at a minimum” he’d like to start playing regular-season games in Havana, and eventually have an MLB team based on the Communist island. “Baseball could be significant in terms of driving the economy and development here in Cuba,” he said.

It didn’t seem to bother Manfred that Cuba has long been home to one of the world’s most brutal and repressive dictatorships. He pulled MLB out of Georgia because he said that baseball “opposes restrictions to the ballot box.” Well, according to the State Department’s human rights report released last month, “Cuba remains a one-party system in which the Communist Party is the only legal political party,” voting is “neither free nor fair nor competitive” and “specialized units of the [Ministry of Interior’s] state security branch are responsible for monitoring, infiltrating, and suppressing independent political activity.” The regime engages in “extrajudicial killings, by the government; forced disappearance by the government; torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of political dissidents, detainees, and prisoners by security forces; … [and] arbitrary arrests and detentions.”

Just two days before the 2016 game in Havana, hundreds of regime thugs attacked and arrested peaceful protesters known as the Ladies in White as they were leaving a Palm Sunday Mass. Raúl Castro’s secret police pounced on the women as they chanted “Freedom! Freedom!” and “half-dragged, half-carried them to waiting buses,” The Post reported. As the women were arrested, an organized pro-regime crowd hurled insults and chanted “This is Fidel’s street!” Indeed, the Cuban regime carried out 526 political detentions in the first two weeks of March leading up to the game. But Manfred did not cancel the game in protest. Apparently playing baseball in the Castro family’s tropical gulag is perfectly consistent with baseball’s “values as a sport.”

What else is consistent with baseball’s values? The same week that MLB decided to leave Georgia, the league also announced a deal with Tencent, the Communist Party-linked Chinese telecommunications firm, to broadcast MLB All-Star Games as well as spring training, regular season and playoff games in Asia through 2023. In 2019, Tencent blocked the streaming of all NBA games featuring the Houston Rockets after the team’s general manager expressed support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Tencent is also the owner of the WeChat app, which is helping the Communist regime build a vast repository of data about Chinese citizens that the State Department said in 2019 forms “a foundation of technology-facilitated surveillance and social control.” So under Manfred’s leadership, Major League Baseball is willing to get in bed with a regime that brutally suppresses freedom in Hong Kong and carries out genocide against Uyghur Muslims — including the use of Uyghur slave labor and the systematic rape and forced sterilization of Uyghur women — but refuses to play an All-Star Game in Georgia.

“It’s at the height of hypocrisy,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) told me in an interview. “The whole position on China with Major League Baseball … but also with MLB and their ties to Cuba. I mean, it makes an average Georgian who really doesn’t pay attention to politics much wonder what are they thinking? Why are they punishing us, yet they are going to have relationship with China where there are no elections, or if they are, it’s already predetermined who the winner’s going to be?”

Manfred’s decision was taken from a pinnacle of near-perfect ignorance about the Georgia law, which actually expands early voting, mandates the use of drop boxes for the first time, and expands the forms of acceptable voter identification to include not just photo ID but a utility bill, a bank statement, a government check or paycheck, or even the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security number. These are far less stringent rules than some of those in Major League Baseball, which requires a photo ID to pick up will-call tickets.

But Manfred cannot plead ignorance when it comes to the human rights records of Communist China and Cuba. He is perfectly willing to punish the people of Georgia in a flagrant exercise of virtue signaling, while doing business with two of the most repressive totalitarian dictatorships on the face of the Earth.

Havana Times, April 5, 2021

Cuba Breaks Another Record

April 5, 2021

By Circles Robinson

HAVANA TIMES – According to the Cuban government, the country is back to its ability to set records.  However, this time it is not about low infant mortality or athletic feats. For the last week, several days headlines announced a new record… this time in positive Covid-19 cases detected on the island.

Saturday April 3rd was the latest record-breaker.  The Communist Party website Cubadebate ran the headline: Cuba has a new record with 1,162 positive tests.  On Sunday, the number dropped to 1,066 in the country of 11.2 million inhabitants.

The good news is that there are still a greater number of cases per million inhabitants in the United States.  The US is the perennial measuring stick for Cuban authorities. Doing better than the US at anything is a source of pride for the country’s leaders. 

While vaccinations are becoming widely available in the enemy to the north, Cuba is undergoing clinical tests on several homegrown vaccines.  The effectivity of the Cuban vaccines will be forthcoming when the test period is over.

In the trial, thousands of Cubans are now happily receiving their first and second dose of the locally produced vaccines. Tests will also reportedly take place in Iran, one of Cuba’s allies.

The government hopes to mass produce vaccines for domestic use and for sales abroad. It also plans to offer its vaccines to tourists.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health reports 26,319 persons currently in isolation, 3,885 suspected of having Covid-19 and 4,806 active patients. While there is an outbreak throughout the country, the most cases reported in recent days are in Havana, Granma and Matanzas.

The country’s leaders continue to blame the population’s indiscipline as a main reason for increased cases. However, the lack of basic foods and medicines and the need to wait in long lines to get them is nationwide.

Why the food and medicine shortages?

With farm production in a year-to-year decline, and the government without funds for imports, ordinary citizens suffer the consequences. The leaders have their needs taken care of without having to wait in the endless lines. It is easy for them to tell people to stay at home.

Readers should be aware that the decades long failure of Cuban agricultural policy has nothing to do with the US embargo.  Endless speeches tell small farmers to plant more as a patriotic duty, but the farm bureaucracy works to take away any incentive to increase production.  Likewise, the state farms have proven they are not the answer with their well-known low productivity. The latest plan is to widely use transgenic crops.

Medicines are also available on the world market from Cuban allies such as China, Russia, and also India.  Even US companies can sell medicine to Cuba under a two-decade embargo exemption, which also includes food products.  The problem is cash $$$ to buy them.

Priorities are priorities and while the government invests in several vaccines that could be profitable, scabies and bed bugs are a nationwide problem. Incredibly, there are often no basic medicines to treat them. Other patients with numerous chronic health problems are also often without their medications.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times

Havana Times, August 18, 2020

Cuban Gov. Rejects Humanitarian Aid from Abroad

August 18, 2020

By Vicente Morin Aguado

HAVANA TIMES – Born in Miami, the “Solidarity between brothers and sisters” campaign managed to work a miracle. It transported food and personal hygiene items to the international Mariel port, to the west of Havana, destined for 15,000 Cuban families. The government is now facing the challenge of closing its doors or allowing the different religious organizations to distribute this humanitarian aid.

So far there’s only silence from Plaza de la Revolucion in response to a project that sidesteps the State’s power. However, the Council of Christian Churches in Cuba (CIC), took it upon themselves to speak for the Cuban people, God and Fidel Castro.

It was precisely on August 13th, the 94th anniversary of the Comandante’s birthday, that Reverend Antonio Santana, CIC president, felt the need to preach.

“As a Man of God, I feel the need to speak out in the face of an event that is not in keeping with what our country needs.”

Joel Ortega Dopico, the Executive Secretary of the above-mentioned religious association, issued a similar statement. “We believe that the campaign launched by Rosa Maria Paya, from the Cuba Decide project, is an insult to the Cuban people and churches.”

The statement comes four days after Rosa Maria Paya confirmed this news of the aid reaching Cuba, after donations were collected in May. The daughter of Sakharov Prize winner Oswaldo Paya sounded the following alert.

“We are warning Cuban Customs and its director, Cordobes Reyes, to fulfill its obligation of handing over these containers to the churches. They are the legal owners of this freight, so it can be distributed among families most in need.”

The government’s silence contrasts with the cry from the Council of Christian Churches, whose representatives declare the aid is not needed.   

“Cuba doesn’t need aid from those who serve a government [USA] which has wanted to create humanitarian crises with a political and economic agenda for 60 years. Far from seeking dialogue and respect and abiding by international laws, it violates them and holds no regard for diplomatic norms. It turns a deaf ear to the UN, year after year, when nearly all countries approve the Cuban resolution: “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.”

This statement seems to be copied straight from the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX). Just like any minister, explaining the system of government they represent, the reformed Presbyterian Church pastor explains to us in another paragraph:

“In our country, civil society, churches and the State interact in harmony, each of them taking on its particular role.”

The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) controls the approved religious institutions which are directly attended to and supervised by its Central Committee’s Office of Religious Affairs.

Regarding the products in port warehouses, the almost unanimous opinion on social media is that this aid should reach its beneficiaries. In the only space for debate outside of government censorship trans actress and TV host Kiriam Gutierrez has spoken out to the CIC’s reverends.

“These five containers of aid were collected by Cubans and US citizens. There, our brothers and sisters, parents, relatives and friends made donations. I need this aid, my mother needs the diapers. Likewise, the medicines that are only found in international drugstores in dollars at exorbitant prices. My mother and I need the free food since you can only buy food in US dollars right now, and I don’t have any.”

Meanwhile, Rosa Maria Paya was cutting and straight to the point. She clarified about the destiny of the humanitarian aid. “The President and Secretary of the Council of Churches DO NOT have to reject anything because this Humanitarian Aid WAS NOT sent to them.”

In Santiago de Cuba, Alain Toledano, of the Sendas de Justicia movement, demonstrates there are other churches who aren’t standing by the Council’s statement.

“We have to let the world know, that this aid belongs to the Cuban people, it doesn’t belong to the State. We won’t accept any trap to try and justify a seizure of what the Cuban people need so desperately today.”

When asked about how feasible it would be to distribute this aid, Toledano said the following,

“We have everything organized on our part: personnel, drop off places, teams lined up to distribute. There is a list which testifies that over 15,000 people or families have asked for aid, we know who they are, their names. We have a well-organized operation, and we would only serve as a bridge, as a channel so that these blessings reach the many families. These include believers and non-believers, because this aid doesn’t discriminate, it’s for the Cuban people.”

In Miami, donors are outraged because the donation drive went on for some weeks, directly and publicly. It took place in the parking lot in front of the Mana Wynwood Convention Center’s warehouses in North Miami, without a single political slogan. The only phrase visible was Solidaridad entre hermanos (Solidarity between brothers/sisters).

At 70 years old, Nelson Ruiz gave us a photo after buying the popular bath soap “Irish Spring”, along with other similar items.

He said: “Soap cleans the body, detergent cleans clothes and plates; these are basic human needs, there isn’t any political statement in these containers. We have to ask what the leaders in my country are so ticked off about.”

“Is it that Cubans are coming together everywhere, without asking them for permission, after they have had us in shackles for 61 years?”

“Invoking the blockade is ridiculous because we are sending our aid from the US freely,” an Internet user commented. He ends with: “we are in the shadow of a crisis that has brought the entire world to a standstill.”