CubaBrief: Remembering Oswaldo & Harold on the 9th anniversary of their killing. Cuban Minister of Defense & the Brigada Especial Nacional of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior sanctioned

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This past Thursday, July 22 was a fitting day for the announcement that the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned the Cuban Minister of Defense and the Brigada Especial Nacional of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior for their role in facilitating the repression of peaceful, pro-democratic protests in Cuba that began on July 11, 2021. It is an appropriate day, because nine years ago on Thursday, July 22, 2012 these same entities, or ones affiliated with them carried out an operation that ended in the deaths of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante.

Cubans have spoken out nonviolently and within Cuban law before, and been met with a brutal response. “In 2002 and 2003, the Castro regime was faced with another outpouring of demands for democracy. More than 25,000 Cubans had signed the Varela Project citizen petition, created by opposition leader Oswaldo Payá, calling for free speech, a free press, freedom of association, freedom of belief, private enterprise, free elections and freedom for political prisoners. Regime’s response was to arrest and sentence to long prison terms those involved in the petition drive.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas spoke truth to power his entire life. On March 30, 2012, speaking on behalf of the Christian Liberation Movement he warned how the Castro dictatorship would use the resources of the Cuban diaspora to perpetuate itself in power condemning it:

Our Movement denounces the regime’s attempt to impose a fraudulent change, i.e. change without rights and the inclusion of many interests in this change that sidesteps democracy and the sovereignty of the people of Cuba. The attempt to link the Diaspora in this fraudulent change is to make victims participate in their own oppression. The Diaspora does not have to “assume attitudes and policies in entering the social activity of the island.” The Diaspora is a Diaspora because they are Cuban exiles to which the regime denied rights as it denies them to all Cubans. It is not in that part of oppression, without rights, and transparency that the Diaspora has to be inserted, that would be part of fraudulent change.

The gradual approach makes sense only if there are transparent prospects of freedom and rights. We Cubans have a right to our rights. Why not rights? It’s time. That is the peaceful change that we promote and claim. Changes that signifies freedom, reconciliation, political pluralism and free elections. Then the Diaspora will cease being a Diaspora, because all Cubans will have rights in their own free and sovereign country. That is why we fight.

Less than four months later on July 22, 2012 he was killed, along with Christian Liberation Movement youth leader Harold Cepero in what was an extrajudicial killing carried out by Cuban state security. There still needs to be an international investigation into their untimely deaths, but Thursday’s announcement begins the process of ending regime impunity to kill Cubans.

The White House, July 22, 2021


FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Measures on Cuba

JULY 22, 2021

“The United States stands with the brave Cubans who have taken to the streets to oppose 62 years of repression under a communist regime.”

– President Biden

The world watched on July 11 as tens of thousands of Cuban citizens marched in cities across Cuba to demand freedom from both the pandemic and from the decades of repression and economic suffering to which they have been subjected by Cuba’s authoritarian regime. The United States stands with the Cuban people, and therefore addressing the moment and the ongoing situation in Cuba is a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration. At President Biden’s direction, the United States is actively pursuing measures that will both support the Cuban people and hold the Cuban regime accountable.

Holding the Cuban Regime Accountable
On July 22, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned one Cuban individual and one Cuban entity for serious human rights abuse, pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world. This action targets the Cuban Minister of Defense and the Brigada Especial Nacional del Ministerio del Interior of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior for their role in facilitating the repression of peaceful, pro-democratic protests in Cuba that began on July 11.

Engaging the International Community
The Administration remains deeply concerned about the welfare of the hundreds of protestors who have been unjustly detained and disappeared simply for demanding their most fundamental rights. The President continues to call for the swift release of those peaceful protestors who have been unjustly detained. The Administration is also actively engaged with the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations, and our international partners to collectively condemn the violence and repression upon the Cuban people for demanding freedom.

Ensuring Cuban Citizens Have Internet Access
The Administration is actively collaborating with the private sector to identify creative ways to ensure that the Cuban people have safe and secure access to the free flow of information on the Internet. The President continues to call on Cuba’s leaders to reinstate and to maintain access to all Internet and telecommunications services for all people within its border, and condemns the use of partial or complete Internet shutdowns and network restrictions imposed by the Cuban Government, which restricts the exercise of human rights and disrupts access to essential services. The intentional blocking of access to the Internet should be strongly condemned by the international community.

Listening to Cuban American Leaders
The Administration has been consistent in its belief that Cuban-Americans are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba. The Administration will continue to meet with Cuban American leaders and stakeholders as they work to help elevate the voices of demonstrators in Cuba, and provide their recommendations for how the U.S. government can help.

Reviewing the Remittances Policy
The Administration is focused on letting families support one another, by maximizing the flow of remittance payments to the Cuban people. This is a complex issue that requires a measured and thoughtful approach in coordination with experts that will help to inform the Administration’s policy. The Administration’s guiding principle is ensuring that funds, to the greatest extent possible, get to the Cuban people without a portion of the proceeds being siphoned off by the regime. The President remains concerned that remittances do not reach their intended recipients, including some of the most vulnerable populations on the island, and instead are being used as a stopgap to treat their government’s failures.

Restaffing U.S. Embassy Havana
The Administration is working to enhance our ability to provide Consular services to the Cuban people given their dire circumstances under an oppressive authoritarian regime. The re-staffing of our Embassy in Havana will serve to enhance our diplomatic, civil society, and Consular service engagement all of which are part of our demonstrated effort to support the Cuban people and their desire for freedom. The Administration is also mindful of the fact that USG personnel have suffered grave injuries while posted to Cuba. Before augmenting our staff in Havana we must do our utmost to ensure that they can safely and securely serve in Cuba.