CubaBrief: Biden Administration votes “No” on Castro regime anti-sanctions resolution Call for no more political prisoners in Cuba at the UN. Summary political trial held in Cuba.

On June 23rd the United States voted against a non-binding U.N. resolution presented by the Castro regime that condemned the American economic embargo of Cuba for the 29th year. The U.S. Mission’s political coordinator, Rodney Hunter, told the General Assembly that the Biden administration voted “no” because the United States believes “sanctions are a legitimate way to achieve foreign policy, national security, and other national and international objectives, and are one set of tools in our broader effort toward Cuba to advance democracy, promote respect for human rights, and help the Cuban people exercise the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

This vote at the UN was a propaganda exercise that the Castro regime began in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Prior to that, with Soviet subsidies, the Castro regime spent decades mocking the economic embargo as ineffectual. However it has evolved into a campaign against not only the embargo but more broadly against sanctions against dictatorships with a special rapporteur created with the objective of pushing an agenda that would deny nation states a nonviolent tool to advance human rights, and as an alternative to war in a conflict between states.

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This year was different than the others because members of Cuba’s independent civil society decided on a different conversation. Cuban dissidents on the same day, June 23rd, gathered outside of the United Nations at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza demanding freedom for all Cubans, highlighted the plight of Cuban political prisoners, and called for “no more political prisoners in Cuba” in a protest organized by S.O.S. Cuba and ProActivo Miami. They advertised the protest for 10:00am but tweeted the first images of the demonstration at 7:43am. They remained there until after 12 noon.

Photo taken outside the United Nations in New York City at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza

Photo taken outside the United Nations in New York City at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza

Activists jumped into their cars, and a truck with panel screens broadcasting faces of political prisoners, and scenes of repression in Cuba along with messages highlighting the reality of living under the dictatorship in Cuba were shared with New Yorkers as they journeyed through Manhattan.

Back of truck with panel screens broadcasting faces of political prisoners, and scenes of repression in Cuba

Back of truck with panel screens broadcasting faces of political prisoners, and scenes of repression in Cuba

The caravan traveled to the Cuban UN Mission and stopped to hold a protest there that will not soon be forgotten by those who passed by and witnessed it. The caravan of cars then continued to Central Park and activists walked through the wooded area and paid their respects to a statue of Jose Marti on horse back in the historic New York City landmark, and this marked the end of the protest.

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The protest achieved its objective of highlighting the plight of Cuba’s political prisoners, and the reality that all of Cuba is a giant prison, and has been for the six decades and counting of the Castro dictatorship.

14ymedio interviewed the artist behind a unique version of the national flag, in blue, black and white. It is the work of Cuban artist Julio Llopiz-Casal and entitled “Cuban flag for spilled milk”. This is how he described the meaning behind it to 14ymedio:

“The three blue stripes represent the three skies that protect the three social classes of Cuba that we Cubans know very well: the sky of the rich, the sky of the poor and the sky of the untouchables (rich or poor)”, the artist explains in a manifesto that accompanies the piece. “The two black stripes represent the impurity of national ideals when they are sullied, manipulated, frustrated or contaminated with mediocrity, selfishness and lack of love towards Cuba. The lonely brown star represents the false sovereignty of the country when its destiny is determined by external interests and a few Cubans, “to which he adds that the white triangle” represents spilled milk: the mistakes made by Cubans in the name of their freedom, whether it was due to naivety or pride, resignation or fear ”. And he concludes: “Cuba is a state of mind. We are going to give Cuba a reason to feel good ”.

Meanwhile in Cuba the regime’s repressive apparatus continued to churn out new political prisoners.

Yandier Garcia Labrada of the Christian Liberation Movement faces 3 to 5 years in prison

Yandier Garcia Labrada of the Christian Liberation Movement faces 3 to 5 years in prison

On June 23, 2021 Eduardo Cardet. National Coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement made known that on that day the trial was held against Yandier Garcia Labrada, ( a virtual hearing), full of irregularities; where Yandier could not submit witnesses in his favor. He was charged with contempt, public disorder and propagation of epidemics. The prosecutor’s petition was 3 to 5 years of deprivation of liberty, the session being concluded for sentencing. The Christian Liberation Movement will continue to denounce the injustices perpetrated by the regime against Yandier and demanding his immediate and unconditional release.

It is also important to share a June 23, 2021 tweet by Rosa María Payá marking “the third birthday that Aymara Nieto spends in prison separated from her daughters (ages 8 and 13) for the crime of speaking her mind. She turned 45 years old and this prisoner of conscience of the Castro regime is jailed hundreds of kilometers from her little girls.”

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The protesters in New York City highlighted a number of cases, and this CubaBrief has included some of them below with background information.

Thais Mailén Franco Benítez

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Human rights activist and mother of three Thais Mailén Franco has been jailed since April 30, 2021 when she, along with a group of various friends, tried to visit Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s at his home while he was on a hunger and thirst strike. She was arrested, together with others, on Obispo Street in Old Havana, when they were blocked from visiting Luis Manuel’s home by regime officials, and an impromptu non-violent protest took place.

According to her husband, Michel Hernández, Thais fell on Wednesday, June 16, 2021 in the Occidente Women’s Prison, located in Guatao, on the outskirts of Havana, where she was transferred weeks ago. Hernández reminded DIARIO DE CUBA that his partner suffers from high blood pressure and is suffering from a serious case of foot fungus, acquired in the prison itself. Thais called her husband around 5:30 PM on June 16th to tell him that “she had fallen on the wet floor and hit her tailbone at ten in the morning.”

She was taken to the Calixto García hospital on June 22, 2021 “Thais is unrecognizable. They did not allow her to speak to me,” denounced her mother, Odalis Benítez, in a report published by 14ymedio. “Three [officers] lead her on foot throughout the hospital avoiding my presence. There is no chair available at this time to transfer her. You can tell that she is in severe pain and they have taken her throughout the hospital looking for another ward,” added Ms. Benítez. in an audio published by La Cola de la Libertad project.

Yeilis Torres Cruz

On May 9, Yeilis Torres Cruz was attacked by the Cuban television presenter, Humberto López , who is also a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), at the time she was recording him, leaving a building accusing him of committing adultery. A day later, Yeilis who is a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), was arrested and transferred to the 100 y Aldabó penitentiary, accused of an assault, according to her relatives. The incident was captured in a video posted on Facebook. The recording shows how the official presenter violently snatched her cell phone.

Esteban Rodriguez

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The Inter American Press expressed concern on June 18, 2021 “over the health of journalist Esteban Rodríguez. The journalist, imprisoned since April 30 in a maximum security prison, was transferred to the Salvador Allende Hospital, La Covadonga, in Havana, for having contracted Covid-19 . His wife reported that Rodríguez had been tortured.”

Text below taken from May 13, 2021 ADN Cuba Statement:

Activist and ADN citizen-journalist Esteban Lázaro Rodríguez López has been detained since April 30 after he was arrested in a peaceful demonstration in Havana.

After several days in a situation of ‘forced disappearance,’ Rodríguez was permitted to call his wife, Zuleidis Gómez Cepero on May 9, in which he confirmed he was being held in “Villa Marista,” headquarters of the Cuban Department of State Security (DSE). 

Still, Rodríguez’s family have not been allowed to see him nor have they been duly informed of the criminal proceedings the regime is taking against him for the alleged crime of ‘public disorder’ and ‘resistance.’

Rodríguez’s arbitrary detention, along with a dozen others who were arrested with him, occurred during a demonstration repressed by forces of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR), Prevention Troops (Army), and the DSE.

Rodríguez and other activists wanted to go to San Isidro Movement’s (MSI) headquarters to check on the health of artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who had already been on a hunger and thirst strike for several days.

Faced with military forces obstructing their access to Alcántara’s house at 955 Damas Street, Esteban Rodríguez and others sat with clasped hands and practiced civic and peaceful disobedience in a small park on Obispo and Aguacate streets.

Yoandi Montiel Hernández “El Gato”

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“El Gato de Cuba”, Yoandi Montiel Hernández, Cuban comedian and influencer, was detained by State Security forces on April 12, 2021 and taken to Villa Marista. He is accused of contempt and verbal assault against Miguel Diaz Canel. In early March 2021 he was cited by state security to meet with them, and after the meeting he recorded a Youtube video stating that they had tried to recruit him to work for them. He was held incommunicado for 11 days, and family after public protests was able to reach him after 12 days. He remains jailed.

Adrian Gongora Santiesteban

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On March 3, 2021 the Cuban police arrested activist Adrián Góngora Santiesteban for filming a queue in the province of Las Tunas. Video of the violent arrest was broadcast over Facebook.

“Look what he’s doing to me! Live! Look at it! He is strangling me and I am not doing anything,” Góngora managed to say this while the police attacked him. The young man continued recording despite having the officer’s arm around his neck, although other agents did not interfere to take the phone from him, reported Periodico Cubano. He remains jailed as of June 24, 2021.

Maykel Osorbo Castillo

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Excerpts from PEN America:

Exactly one month ago, Cuban authorities arrested and detained rapper and activist Maykel Castillo. Today, PEN America, along with CADAL, the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America, condemned the Cuban authorities for their arbitrary detention of Castillo and called for his immediate release.

Castillo disappeared on May 18, his whereabouts unknown. News outlets later reported that he had been held in custody and transferred to Pinar del Río provincial prison on May 31, accused of crimes such as “resistance” and “contempt.” It remains unclear where he was during that week. Castillo’s detention is part of a larger crackdown in Cuba against artists who have faced scrutiny for their commentary on the regime and who have played leading roles in protest movements across the country. Castillo is one of the featured artists in “Patria y Vida,” a music video that is critical of Cuba’s government, which received over 5 million views. A member of the San Isidro Movement, he was also one of the main promoters of the #NoAlDecreto349 campaign, which has pushed for artistic freedom in the country.

Taimir Garcia

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Activist Taimir García, one of three activists arrested on April 21 for protesting the application of a fine to a street vendor in the city of Las Tunas, was transferred on May 3, 2021 to a “correctional camp” known as La Granja 5 Women’s Prison, in the province of Camagüey, more than 100 kilometers from her place of residence. “Apparently she gave the phone number to an inmate who called me and said ‘your wife is here at La Granja 5‘ el Baisa ’ in the Women’s Prison.” She has to be isolated for 14 days as a preventive measure due to COVID19, at that time they do not give her access to calls, ” confirmed her husband, Holmis Rivas Carmenate, like Taimir a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba. “I don’t know why they took her so far, if she is from here in Las Tunas. I suppose that it is to make visits challenging for family members, with the restrictions due to the pandemic, everything is difficult. There is no transportation. Right now the rental of a vehicle to Camagüey costs between 80 and 100 dollars”. García, accused of the crimes of “Disrespect” and “Resistance”, was arrested along with Damián Hechevarría, accused of “Assault” and imprisoned in El Tipico prison in the province of Las Tunas and Adrián Góngora, incriminated by “Resistencia”, was relocated to the Holguín Provincial Prison.

Damián de Jesús Hechevarria Labrada

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Damián Hechevarría, accused of “Assault” and imprisoned in El Tipico prison in the province of Las Tunas. He is one of three activists arrested on April 21, 2021 for protesting the application of a fine to a street vendor in the city of Las Tunas.

Luis Robles Elizastigui

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Luis Robles Elizastigui walked along the San Rafael Boulevard in central Havana on December 4, 2020 with a piece of cardboard converted into a poster calling for the freedom of Denis Solis, an end to repression, and freedom. Videos were taken by passersby and uploaded to the internet.

He was arrested without resistance by the police, and charged “with ‘acts against state security.’ According to Diario de Cuba the charge was filed by First-Lieutenant Roberto Batista, who issued an order for ‘temporary detention.'”

14ymedio identified the “young man as 28-year-old Luis Robles Elizastigui, originally from Guantanamo, who is the father of one son. Bystanders rushed to his defense when police tried to arrest him for holding up a cardboard sign that read, “Freedom, no more repression.” The sign also included the hashtag ‘#FreeDenis,’ a reference to the rapper Denis Solis, who was sentenced to eight months in jail for alleged contempt.”

A Habeus Corpus motion filed on December 14, 2020 was rejected by Popular Provincial Tribunal of Havana and he remained held at the headquarters of the secret police in Villa Marista. He was transferred to the maximum security prison of Combinado del Este in Havana. Activists reported that a prison official has instructed other prisoners to repeatedly physically assault him, and expressed their concerns for his safety.

He remains jailed.

Denis Solís González

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FreeMuse, the Danish NGO that advocates for artistic freedom of expression, reported on his November 9, 2020 arrest: “Rapper, activist and member of the San Isidro Movement Denis Solís González was detained in La Habana after sharing a video on 6 November 2020 of a police officer entering his house without a warrant, reports ADN Cuba.” Cuban journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez Denis, in his Spanish column in The Washington Post published on November 20, 2020 described the arrest and aftermath as follows, “Solís, a young rebellious Cuban rapper, called a policeman “a coward wrapped in a uniform” who on November 7th entered his house to harass him without his permission. He filmed the altercation with his cell phone and posted the video on his social networks. In a summary trial, without a defense attorney, Solís was sentenced for contempt to eight months of deprivation of liberty.”

The call on June 23rd outside the United Nations was for a free Cuba, and the freedom of all political prisoners and no new ones in Cuba. This will necessitate a democratic transition in the island, and that is what these activists were calling for to both the international community and Cubans on and off the island. In addition to this aspirational goal they named names of political prisoners and shared their images, along with images of repression in Cuba to new audiences across Manhattan.

Associated Press, June 23, 2021

US votes against UN resolution condemning US embargo on Cuba

EDITH M. LEDERER

Wed, June 23, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States voted against a U.N. resolution Wednesday that overwhelmingly condemned the American economic embargo of Cuba for the 29th year, maintaining the Trump administration’s opposition and refusing to return to the Obama administration’s 2016 abstention.

The vote in the 193-member General Assembly was 184 countries supporting the condemnation, the United States and Israel opposing it, and three countries abstained. Four countries did not vote.

Before the vote, the U.S. Mission’s political coordinator, Rodney Hunter, told the assembly that the Biden administration voted “no” because the United States believes sanctions are key to advancing democracy and human rights which “remain at the core of our policy efforts toward Cuba.”

“Sanctions are a legitimate way to achieve foreign policy, national security, and other national and international objectives,” Hunter said, “and are one set of tools in our broader effort toward Cuba to advance democracy, promote respect for human rights, and help the Cuban people exercise the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

“We therefore oppose this resolution,” he said.

The General Assembly’s last vote in November 2019, during its 74th session, was 187-3 with the U.S., Israel and Brazil voting “no,” and Colombia and Ukraine abstaining. The assembly’s 75th session began in September 2020, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic the vote on the Cuba resolution was postponed from last fall to Wednesday.

General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding and are unenforceable, but they reflect world opinion and the vote has given Cuba an annual stage to demonstrate the isolation of the U.S. on the embargo.

It was imposed in 1960 following the revolution led by Fidel Castro and the nationalization of properties belonging to U.S. citizens and corporations. Two years later it was strengthened.

Former Cuban President Raul Castro and then-President Barack Obama officially restored relations in July 2016, and that year the U.S. abstained on the resolution calling for an end to the embargo for the first time. But Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, sharply criticized Cuba’s human rights record and in 2017 the U.S. again voted against the resolution.

https://www.yahoo.com/now/us-votes-against-un-resolution-173044717.html

14ymedio, June 23, 2021

Dozens of Cubans protest in front of the UN to ask for freedom for Cuba’s political prisoners

The annual resolution against the US embargo was approved by 184 countries

Luz Escobar, La Habana | Junio 23, 2021

In the protest participated among others, the journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez, professor Omara Ruiz Urquiola and the artists Luis Eligio D Omni, Javier Caso and Kizzy Macías. (14ymedio)

In the protest participated among others, the journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez, professor Omara Ruiz Urquiola and the artists Luis Eligio D Omni, Javier Caso and Kizzy Macías. (14ymedio)

The writer Carlos Manuel Álvarez used a reproduction of the “Garrote Vil” of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara to handcuff himself, in solidarity with the leader of the San Isidro Movement. Later, several of the protesters also went to the seat, where they were immobilized by the neck and handcuffed behind their back.

“The way in which we are here, in which we are projecting ourselves towards New York City, is neither gratuitous nor exaggerated,” said the writer in another of the broadcasts. “This is the faithful representation of how people live in Cuba. Cubans live with their hands tied and with a kind of club around their neck and subjected by a regime that does not respect civil or individual liberties.”

Other participants covered their heads with a paper box with the images of political prisoners such as Maykel Castillo Osorbo, Yuisán Cancio Vera, Luis Ángel Cuba Alfonso, Thais Mailén Franco Benítez, Esteban Lázaro Rodríguez López, Inti Soto Romero, Yeilis Torres Cruz and Adrián Coroneaux Stevens.

In the demonstration, participants waved Cuban flags and a unique version of the national flag, work of the Cuban artist Julio Llopiz-Casal. (14ymedio)

In the demonstration, participants waved Cuban flags and a unique version of the national flag, work of the Cuban artist Julio Llopiz-Casal. (14ymedio)

In the demonstration, participants waved Cuban flags and a unique version of the national flag, in blue, black and white, the work of the Cuban artist Julio Llopiz-Casal and entitled Cuban flag for spilled milk. “The three blue stripes represent the three skies that protect the three social classes of Cuba that we Cubans know very well: the sky of the rich, the sky of the poor and the sky of the untouchables (rich or poor)”, the artist explains in a manifesto that accompanies the piece. “The two black stripes represent the impurity of national ideals when they are sullied, manipulated, frustrated or contaminated with mediocrity, selfishness and lack of love towards Cuba. The lonely brown star represents the false sovereignty of the country when its destiny is determined by external interests and a few Cubans, “to which he adds that the white triangle” represents spilled milk: the mistakes made by Cubans in the name of their freedom, whether it was due to naivety or pride, resignation or fear ”. And he concludes: “Cuba is a state of mind. We are going to give Cuba a reason to feel good ”.

Speaking to 14ymedio, the artist, who lives on the island, said that “we Cubans who feel that on the island they live under an autocracy, which sacrifices and violates the most elementary rights in the name of conserving power, we don’t have much more than to perform symbolic gestures. A peaceful demonstration in the streets of Cuba and this protest at the UN headquarters are “.

While this was happening in New York, in Havana several artists woke up under State Security surveillance. Tania Bruguera, Carolina Barrero, Katherine Bisquet and Camila Lobón reported early in the morning that police officers were guarding their homes to prevent them from going out.

At the end of the protest, the protesters moved in front of the Cuban Mission to the UN where they stayed for several minutes and from a truck with three screens they transmitted images of the repression in Cuba while shouting “freedom”, “homeland and life”, “down with the dictatorship “, among other slogans against the Government. Then they went out in a caravan throughout the city “so that everyone can get the message that there is a dictatorship in Cuba,” explained artist Douglas Arguelles Cruz in a live broadcast.

https://www.14ymedio.com/cuba/Decenas-manifiestan-ONU-libertad-politicos_0_3117888189.html

Pen America, June 18, 2021

PEN America Demands Immediate Release of Cuban Rapper and Activist

Authorities arrested Maykel Castillo exactly one month ago

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June 18, 2021

(New York, NY) — Exactly one month ago, Cuban authorities arrested and detained rapper and activist Maykel Castillo. Today, PEN America, along with CADAL, the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America, condemned the Cuban authorities for their arbitrary detention of Castillo and called for his immediate release.

“The fact that Castillo has been kept in prison for more than a month—and that his family, friends, and supporters have been kept in the dark as to his condition and the reasons for his arbitrary detention—is simply unacceptable,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Our hearts go out to his family and friends, and we condemn this callous disregard for basic human dignity and rule of law. Castillo has faced repeated attacks, detentions, and harassment for more than a year, simply for expressing his creativity and using his platform as an artist. This is yet another distressing development in Cuba’s assault on artistic freedom of expression—and artists themselves.”  

“We condemn the growing persecution of independent artists for the mere fact of expressing their political dissent. Freedom of expression and artistic freedom are fundamental human rights and should not be criminalized. We demand the release of musician Maykel ‘Osorbo’ Castillo,” said Cecilia Noce, freedom of artistic expression defense project coordinator at CADAL.

Castillo disappeared on May 18, his whereabouts unknown. News outlets later reported that he had been held in custody and transferred to Pinar del Río provincial prison on May 31, accused of crimes such as “resistance” and “contempt.” It remains unclear where he was during that week. Castillo’s detention is part of a larger crackdown in Cuba against artists who have faced scrutiny for their commentary on the regime and who have played leading roles in protest movements across the country. Castillo is one of the featured artists in “Patria y Vida,” a music video that is critical of Cuba’s government, which received over 5 million views. A member of the San Isidro Movement, he was also one of the main promoters of the #NoAlDecreto349 campaign, which has pushed for artistic freedom in the country. 

In an interview with Reuters in April, Castillo said, “As much as they try to discredit the work we are doing, it doesn’t work. I am not anyone’s agent. I am a free citizen.”

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. Their report, Art Under Pressure, details the effect of Decree 349, a regulation that gives authorities wide remit to limit the cultural sector on artists and activists in Cuba. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, please contact ARC.

**PEN America experts are available for interviews in English and Spanish. // Los expertos de PEN América están disponibles para entrevistas en inglés y español.**

https://pen.org/press-release/pen-america-demands-immediate-release-of-cuban-rapper-and-activist/