CubaBrief: Political show trials continue with over 800 Cubans ID’d as detained or missing. Focus on one family impacted. Possible social media origin to July 11. Havana Syndrome mystery continues

Summary political show trials continue in Cuba. Havana does not release information on how many arrested, but other sources provide estimates along with concrete data. 14ymedio, the press outfit founded by Yoani Sanchez, estimates more than 5,000 detained. Cubalex, a human rights NGO, identified 806 detained or missing Cubans, related to the protests that began on July 11th, in their database as of 3:54pm on August 9, 2021, but the list is expected to grow.

Journalist Lori Rozsa in her article in The Washington Post today reports on the plight of one mother, who is in Miami, who has not heard from her 29-year-old son since he was arrested during the pro-democracy protests in Cuba. She is one of the hundreds, if not thousands, impacted by the mass arrests and repression unleashed by the Castro regime on July 11th. “Aime Linares dials her son’s cell phone every day, but he never picks up. She hasn’t talked to Nosley Lazaro Dominguez since just before he was arrested in mid-July during huge pro-democracy protests in Cuba. ‘It just rings and rings,” Linares said. “I don’t expect him to answer anymore. But I want one of them to answer it, one of the people who are holding him. And when they do, I will tell them that they are monsters.'” Yuliet Linares, Nosley Lazaro’s aunt, posted on Twitter on August 6th a video her nephew recorded of Cuban agents attacking protestors.

In the Tweet Ms. Linares wrote: “This is the video that my nephew Nosley Lázaro Domínguez broadcast live from Guines Mayabeque Cuba, during the demonstrations on July 12. They beat him and took him prisoner, he is incommunicado, they have not let him make a call to his family, much less let them see him.”

Sarah Marsh, of Reuters and based in Cuba, is now reporting that social media may have played more of a role in sparking the July 11th protests than previously reported.

“Yet an investigation by non-state Cuban outlet El Estornudo – cited by state television and confirmed by Reuters – recently showed that the first protest was convened online by a San Antonio community forum for local people and those who had emigrated. The Facebook group ‘City of Humor’ – the nickname for San Antonio which hosts a biannual humor festival – was first created in 2017 as a social space, according to one of its three administrators, Miami-based Alexander Perez. Over time, people also started expressing their gripes, said Perez, 44, a pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. That prompted him and the other administrators Danilo Roque and Lazaro Gonzalez to try to “educate them” about their civil rights and claiming them through peaceful protest.”

Protest against the Castro dictatorship. July 11th First Rally against the Cuban government genocidal actions this week. Held in front of the Canadian Parliament. Ottawa, Summer 2021

On a more troubling note, the United States  “is still unsure of what causes the so-called ‘Havana syndrome’ that has sickened diplomats in several countries, intelligence chief Avril Haines said Monday.  The director of national intelligence said she had convened a meeting with top cabinet officials and other experts Friday to discuss the problem, which has led to unproven allegations that Russians or others used sonic or other high-intensity electronic devices to physically harm U.S. diplomats in Cuba, China and other countries,” reports Agence France Press today.

The wire service provided more background information that exposes the origin in Cuba. “The problem [first] surfaced in 2016 when U.S. diplomats and their families in Cuba complained of nosebleeds, migraines and nausea after experiencing piercing sounds at night. Since then similar complaints have been reported from U.S. officials in China, Russia and inside the United States. In July, the New Yorker reported that since President Joe Biden took office this year, about two dozen US intelligence officers, diplomats and other government officials in Austria have reported problems similar to the Havana syndrome.”

Credit: Alex Sandoval

Credit: Alex Sandoval

The Washington Post, August 9, 2021

Cuban-exile community worries and mobilizes to support loved ones on the island

Aime Linares is anxiously waiting to learn the whereabouts of her son in Cuba. The 29-year-old was arrested during demonstrations there nearly a month ago. (Saul Martinez/for The Washington Post)

Aime Linares is anxiously waiting to learn the whereabouts of her son in Cuba. The 29-year-old was arrested during demonstrations there nearly a month ago. (Saul Martinez/for The Washington Post)

By Lori Rozsa
Today at 8:00 a.m. EDT

MIAMI — Aime Linares dials her son’s cellphone every day, but he never picks up. She hasn’t talked to Nosley Lazaro Dominguez since just before he was arrested in mid-July during huge pro-democracy protests in Cuba.

“It just rings and rings,” Linares said. “I don’t expect him to answer anymore. But I want one of them to answer it, one of the people who are holding him. And when they do, I will tell them that they are monsters.”

Hundreds of activists, journalists and other citizens have been detained since last month’s historic demonstrations, which brought thousands onto the streets in the face of increasingly severe blackouts, food shortages and a spiking coronavirus outbreak.

The ongoing crackdown has shaken this country’s Cuban-exile community, which remains deeply connected to the island. Relatives and friends are desperate to know if their detained loved ones are safe. Many wonder if they’ll ever hear from them again.

“The families are worried and afraid because they know what can happen in a Cuban prison,” said Gus Garcia, co-founder of the Miami nonprofit Movimiento Democracia. “They’re terrified.”

With Internet access still limited by government censorship and cellphone coverage unreliable, even unconfirmed news is hard to come by. So people stitch together clues as best they can.

Linares has been sifting through social media accounts looking for mentions of her son, who works in information technology at a hospital. She’s asking friends both in the United States and Cuba for any details on detainees who have been released and may have seen the 29-year-old in jail in Havana.

One man who was released told her during a brief conversation three weeks after his own arrest that Dominguez needed medical attention “because he was short of oxygen and in poor condition.” Dominguez’s wife, who is pregnant with their second child, got nowhere when she went to the prison where another detainee had said he was being held.

“That’s all we know,” his cousin, Oledys Linares, said several days ago. From Miami, she had been following his real-time video the day of the protests up until the moment he was grabbed by someone in a green uniform.

“It’s so frightening to think of what could happen to him,” added Oledys, who left Cuba a decade ago. “Our faith is strong, but this is very hard.”

The calls for democracy and significant political change have come from across the island — an unprecedented challenge to President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the first non-Castro leader in 62 years. Rallies also have decried the lack of food and medicine in many communities, an issue linked in part to decades-old U.S. sanctions. Smaller protests that disperse quickly when police arrive are continuing to take place, Garcia said.

Alian Collazo, who helps run an assisted-living facility in Tampa, knows two friends who were in custody at some point. He’s heard they were killed by the government, though word of their deaths — like much of the news from Cuba — was unofficial and thirdhand from Collazo’s grandmother, who is friends with the grandmother of one of the men.

“They were artists,” said Collazo, who came to the United States illegally when he was 8, riding in a boat with his mother and dozens of other Cubans. He’s now 26 and a member of LIBRE Initiative, a U.S.-based group that supports “a free and prosperous” Cuba.

“To say I have anxiety is putting it mildly. If your family is there, you don’t know if tomorrow, they’re going to go to your grandmother’s house and take her, or take your brother or sister, and you’re in America, and what can you do?” he said. “It’s traumatic.”

Amalia Dache, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania who was born in Cuba, learned last week that one of her cousins was detained but is now free. She messaged with him online, getting details of his time in prison.

“They put him in a cell with another prisoner who has coronavirus,” Dache said. “They didn’t give them masks, they didn’t give them food for 48 hours. He’s sure they were trying to give him the virus. The conditions in the jail are horrific, very inhumane.”

A niece remains unaccounted for, but whether she’s still being held or simply unable to call is unclear.

“That’s another problem, because so many of the protesters are from marginalized communities, they don’t have phones or access to the Internet,” said Dache, who noted that a large percentage of participants are Black and poor. They reflect the Afro-Cuban origins of the unrest, in an artist’s barrio in Havana known as San Isidro.

“It takes a lot of courage and strength for the Cuban people to be in the streets and face prison and jail time and being beat up,” she said. “But my cousin is ready to go out there again today. He said we’re going to keep on fighting.”

Activists and lawyers in Miami’s Cuban community are doing what they can to help through legal representation, and donations of cellphones and cards with prepaid minutes for calling.

When Cuban-Spanish chess player Arian Gonzalez, 35, was taken into custody after a demonstration — he was on the island visiting his grandmother — many in the international chess community went on social media to pressure the Spanish government to intervene. Among the most prominent figures who spoke out: former world champion Garry Kasparov, who currently chairs the Human Rights Foundation.

Gonzalez was released to house arrest after 11 days and now faces a trial for the crime of “disrespect,” according to a local media report.

“We have another young man who’s a soccer fanatic, and he loves the Brazilian team, so we’re trying to get the team to put some pressure on so we can get him out,” Garcia said. “You have to be creative sometimes and take help wherever you can find it.”

Cubalex, a U.S.-based human rights organization, and other groups are putting together lists of people detained or unaccounted for at this point. Miami attorney William Sanchez is working with Garcia to gather statements from family members about their last contacts with relatives. So far, he said, they have 500 names. Getting them legal help is difficult, though. “We have no jurisdiction there,” he said.

Sanchez’s work is personal as much as professional. He was born in the United States after his parents fled Cuba at the beginning of Fidel Castro’s revolution. His uncle was executed by the military.

He and his fellow volunteer lawyers have already filed nine petitions to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights with the Organization of American States. More are coming, though the work is slow.

“It’s been really difficult to get through to people in Cuba. And getting information is difficult,” said Sanchez, a Democrat hoping to challenge Republican incumbent Marco Rubio in next year’s U.S. Senate election. “People fear getting beaten. Some have had the phones ripped out of the walls of their homes. Families are clearly scared for their own lives.”

Oledys Linares, left, is helping her aunt, Aime Linares, as she presses for information about her son in Cuba, who had been among the thousands of people there protesting for more democracy. (Saul Martinez/for The Washington Post)

Oledys Linares, left, is helping her aunt, Aime Linares, as she presses for information about her son in Cuba, who had been among the thousands of people there protesting for more democracy. (Saul Martinez/for The Washington Post)

Lori Rozsa is a freelance reporter and frequent contributor to The Washington Post. She is a former correspondent for People magazine and a former reporter and bureau chief for The Miami Herald.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/cuban-exile-community-worries-and-mobilizes-to-support-loved-ones-on-the-island/2021/08/08/c3f6e54a-f6c7-11eb-9738-8395ec2a44e7_story.html

Reuters, August 9, 2021

The Facebook group that staged first in Cuba’s wave of protests

By Sarah Marsh

People shout slogans against the government during a protest against and in support of the government, amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Havana, Cuba July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo

People shout slogans against the government during a protest against and in support of the government, amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Havana, Cuba July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo

HAVANA, Aug 9 (Reuters) – “Tired of having no electricity?” read a post in a Facebook group for residents of the small Cuban town of San Antonio de los Banos on July 10. “Fed up of having to listen to the impudence of a government that doesn’t care about you?”

“It’s time to go out and to make demands. Don’t criticize at home: let’s make them listen to us”.

The next day, thousands took to the street in San Antonio, a town of some 50,000 people, 30 km (20 miles) southwest of Havana, kicking off a rare wave of protests throughout the Communist-run country.

Unrest has been growing across Latin America and the Caribbean as unease spreads over COVID-19 lockdowns and rising poverty. But in Cuba authorities have traditionally tightly controlled public spaces, saying unity is key to resisting coup attempts by old Cold War foe the United States.

The protests, Cuba’s most widespread since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, appeared largely spontaneous as Cubans vented frustrations over long lines for food, power outages, medicine shortages as well as curbs on civil freedoms.

Yet an investigation by non-state Cuban outlet El Estornudo – cited by state television and confirmed by Reuters – recently showed that the first protest was convened online by a San Antonio community forum for local people and those who had emigrated.

The Facebook group “City of Humor” – the nickname for San Antonio which hosts a biannual humor festival – was first created in 2017 as a social space, according to one of its three administrators, Miami-based Alexander Perez.

Over time, people also started expressing their gripes, said Perez, 44, a pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. That prompted him and the other administrators Danilo Roque and Lazaro Gonzalez to try to “educate them” about their civil rights and claiming them through peaceful protest.

Neither Roque nor Gonzalez, whom Perez described as two younger men who lived in San Antonio operating under the pseudonyms to avoid reprisals, responded to request for comment.

The backstory shows how the recent expansion of web access in Cuba has been a gamechanger in fostering forums on social media to share criticism and to mobilize.

It also shows how strengthening relations with the Cuban diaspora – thanks to the internet and greater freedom of movement – is influencing politics on the island at a grassroots level.

Virtual communities like “The City of Humor” exist nationwide and emigres are exhorting local people on them to keep on protesting and expressing solidarity, with some even urging violence.

All this poses a challenge to the government which has allowed relatively unfettered access to the internet, unlike China, which blocks many Western social media apps.

Cuba has blamed the protests on online meddling by counter-revolutionaries backed by the United States, which has for decades openly sought to force reform on it through sanctions and financing for democracy programs.

The administrators of the “City of Humor” did not receive any U.S. funding nor had they coordinated protests with other towns, Perez said.

Cuba, where the state has a monopoly on telecommunications, has suffered intermittent disruptions in access to internet and social media since July 11, in an apparent bid to prevent further unrest.

Protests petered out within a couple of days amid those outages, a large deployment of security forces and a wave of detentions.

TEACHING CIVIL RIGHTS

Posts in “The City of Humor” – which jumped from around 4,000 to nearly 10,000 members after the July 11 protest – show users reminiscing, selling items, promoting businesses and complaining about local issues like water supply.

Perez said the administrators decided three years ago to also attempt to rally the community to demonstrate over shared gripes, with little success.

Last month they felt the time was ripe to try again.

The pandemic and tighter U.S. sanctions had exacerbated Cuba’s economic woes, plunging it into its deepest crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union. And the COVID-19 surge was pushing its already creaking healthcare infrastructure to the brink.

“We decided this was the moment,” said Perez.

The announcement of the protest at the church park at 11 a.m. spread by word-of-mouth and messaging applications, according to three San Antonio residents who requested anonymity.

But Perez said he had such low expectations that anyone would show up that he went to the beach that day. So he was stunned to get a call to say the small early turnout had snowballed.

“We certainly never imagined that San Antonio would be the spark that lit the flame causing Cuba to take to the streets three hours later,” he said.

Videos on social media showed San Antonio protesters shouting anti-government slogans like “freedom” and “we are not afraid”.

“My town came out in force because it just can’t take any more,” said one resident, requesting anonymity.

Within hours, President Miguel Diaz-Canel himself showed up, in a bid – he said later in a televised address to the nation – to show “the streets belong to revolutionaries”.

Some videos on social media showed him being heckled but the unrest there and elsewhere soon dwindled amid a crackdown.

Perez said a heavy security presence in San Antonio meant Cubans would have to bide their time until another protest.

But it was noteworthy, he said, that the government already enacted reforms like lifting customs restrictions for travelers bringing in medicine and food in response to the protests.

“If we manage to achieve this in a few hours of protest” he wondered, “what happens if we spend three days in the streets?”

https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/facebook-group-that-staged-first-cubas-wave-protests-2021-08-09/

Courthouse News, August 9, 2021

US intelligence still unsure what causes ‘Havana syndrome’

Agence France-presse / August 9, 2021

(AFP) — The U.S. is still unsure of what causes the so-called “Havana syndrome” that has sickened diplomats in several countries, intelligence chief Avril Haines said Monday. 

The director of national intelligence said she had convened a meeting with top cabinet officials and other experts Friday to discuss the problem, which has led to unproven allegations that Russians or others used sonic or other high-intensity electronic devices to physically harm U.S. diplomats in Cuba, China and other countries.

But — five years after the first case in Havana — medical experts, the intelligence community and U.S. officials remain uncertain of the cause of the “anomalous health incidents” (AHI) that have affected US diplomats and their families, Haines indicated in a statement.

The meeting unanimously agreed “that it is a top priority to identify the cause of AHI, provide the highest level of care to those affected, and prevent such incidents from continuing,” she said.

The Friday meeting of the Joint Intelligence Community Council included the secretaries of defense, state, treasury, energy, and homeland security and the attorney general.

Diplomats affected by AHI have accused the government in recent years of not working hard enough to identify the cause or source of their symptoms.

The problem surfaced in 2016 when U.S. diplomats and their families in Cuba complained of nosebleeds, migraines and nausea after experiencing piercing sounds at night.

Since then similar complaints have been reported from U.S. officials in China, Russia and inside the United States.

In July, the New Yorker reported that since President Joe Biden took office this year, about two dozen US intelligence officers, diplomats and other government officials in Austria have reported problems similar to the Havana syndrome.

The U.S. has deployed medical and scientific experts to study the alleged attacks and those affected have been extensively examined to try to understand their afflictions.

Haines’ statement indicated that while no conclusion has been reached, they continue to take the reports of problems seriously.

The participants “made clear that they will support those affected by AHI to ensure they are believed, heard, and respected,” she said.

https://www.courthousenews.com/us-intelligence-still-unsure-what-causes-havana-syndrome/