CubaBrief: PEN expresses concern over health of Cuban rights defender on hunger strike. CSW delivers petition for release of Cuban Pastor. Prisoner marks year in jail

Headlines are reporting about half of Cuba’s 24-member national team using the 2021 Under-23 Baseball World Cup in Mexico to flee the Castro regime. If Cuba were a normal country then baseball players could play wherever their talent would take them, but Cuba is a communist dictatorship, and to do that they need to defect. This is viewed by some analysts as a great embarrassment to Havana, but the plight of hundreds of Cuban political prisoners, and ongoing summary trials are cause for international attention.

Three specific cases are being highlighted here, but there are hundreds more.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara

“PEN America and PEN International yesterday expressed their pressing concern over the health of imprisoned Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who has been undergoing a hunger strike since September 27. Protesting his own imprisonment as well as Cuba’s broader crackdown on artistic expression, Otero Alcántara’s health is now quickly deteriorating. PEN America and PEN International urge Cuban authorities to immediately discharge Otero Alcántara without making his permanent departure from the island a condition of his release. ‘Nine days into his hunger strike, Otero Alcántara’s health and body are on the line, and we are extremely concerned for him and fear for his life. He has made this sacrifice because it is the only tool of protest left for him. The Cuban authorities have denied him his voice, his fundamental rights, and his freedom,’ said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America.“

Cuban artist Afrika Reina is on day seven of a hunger strike in solidarity with Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara. Below is a video in which she makes a statement with English subtitles.

CSW delivered a 2070-signature petition calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Cuban Protestant Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo to the Cuban Embassy in London on 30 September.

Pastor Rosales Fajardo with his wife. He has been jailed since July protests in Cuba.

Pastor Rosales Fajardo with his wife. He has been jailed since July protests in Cuba.

Pastor Rosales Fajardo has been detained without trial for over two months following the peaceful protests that emerged across Cuba on 11 July. He is currently being held in the Boniato Maximum Security Prison outside of Santiago de Cuba, and he has been prevented from receiving visits from his wife and family.”

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The Christian Liberation Movement yesterday marked one year that their member Yandier García Labrada has been unjustly imprisoned in Cuba. This is a good moment to recall when and how he was arbitrarily detained.

“On October 6, 2020, at about 3:00 p.m., [Yandier García Labrada ] was standing in line to obtain food and basic supplies for himself and his mother outside a food supply site in Manatí. While in line, a security guard from the supermarket pushed him, and the proposed beneficiary publicly complained about the disorganization and irregularities in the supply of goods. More people joined him in his complaint and local officials called the police. Mr. García Labrada was detained along with three other people. According to witnesses, the apprehension of the proposed beneficiary was “rough”, given that between four and five police officers “threw him headfirst into the patrol car to arrest him”. The three other people arrested with him were released hours later on October 6, while the proposed beneficiary remained in detention,” reported the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in a precautionary measure issued in early 2021.

Pen America, October 6, 2021

PEN America Issues Urgent Call to Release Hunger Striking Cuban Artist

Protesting his own imprisonment as well as Cuba’s broader crackdown on artistic expression, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s health is now quickly deteriorating

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October 6, 2021

(New York, NY) — PEN America and PEN International today issued their pressing concern over the health of imprisoned Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who has been undergoing a hunger strike since September 27. Protesting his own imprisonment as well as Cuba’s broader crackdown on artistic expression, Otero Alcántara’s health is now quickly deteriorating. PEN America and PEN International urge Cuban authorities to immediately discharge Otero Alcántara without making his permanent departure from the island a condition of his release.

“Nine days into his hunger strike, Otero Alcántara’s health and body are on the line, and we are extremely concerned for him and fear for his life. He has made this sacrifice because it is the only tool of protest left for him. The Cuban authorities have denied him his voice, his fundamental rights, and his freedom,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Their refusal to release him unless he leaves the country shows that the government does not believe that his life holds any value and that there is no place in Cuban society for independent thought or protest. PEN America, along with human rights organizations around the world, will not cease to raise their voices on behalf of the Cuban artists whose own voices have been cruelly silenced. We call on the Cuban government to release Otero Alcántara immediately and drop the charges against him—without forcing him to leave Cuba, his island and his home. His life depends on it.” 

“The situation of artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is alarming, illegal, and cruel in every way. He has been detained since July and his only crime—which, of course, is not a crime at all—was to exercise his right to freedom of expression and artistic freedom,” said Claudia Genlui Hildalgo Moreno, an art curator and Otera Alcántara’s partner. “Since September 27, Luis Manuel has assumed the sacrifice of his body. He started a hunger strike to protest the violence and injustice to which he has been subjected. His life is in danger and his body is deteriorating every day. Luis Manuel had only just recovered from a severe case of COVID-19 when he began the hunger strike, and his health was already weakened from previous hunger and thirst strikes—a measure of the many months of repression and harassment that the Cuban government has mercilessly subjected him to. They are responsible for this devastating violence against Luis Manuel. The life of a human being, an artist, a friend, a family member, is falling apart in their hands.” 

Otero Alcántara is a leader of the San Isidro movement, a collective of Cuban artists, journalists, and intellectuals, and co-author of the viral song “Patria y Vida,” which became an anthem of the mass protests across the island in late July. On September 15, Otero Alcántara was included in TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021 list, with an entry written by artist Ai Wei Wei. On September 28,the song “Patria y Vida” was nominated for “Best Song of the Year” at the Latin Grammy Awards.

Otero Alcántara began his hunger strike since late September in the maximum-security prison of Guanajay, where he has remained imprisoned after being detained on July 11. On September 6, the Cuban Prosecutor’s Office charged him with the crimes of public disorder, contempt and instigation to commit a crime. Otero Alcántara began his hunger strike soon after recovering from COVID-19. The Cuban authorities have stated that they will allow his release only if he immediately leaves the island for an unknown amount of time. 

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. ARC recently released A Safety Guide For Artists, a resource that offers practical strategies to help artists understand, navigate, and overcome risk, and features an interview with Cuban artist Tania Bruguera about the state of free expression on the island. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.

https://pen.org/press-release/pen-america-issues-urgent-call-to-release-hunger-striking-cuban-artist/


Deutsche Welle, October 6, 2021

Why Cuban baseball players fled their country

Half of Cuba’s 24-member national team used this year’s Under-23 Baseball World Cup in Mexico as a chance to flee the country’s communist regime. They want to play professionally in the US, but not all of them will.

Cuban baseball player César Prieto defected in May

Cuban baseball player César Prieto defected in May

The Florida Marlins baseball stadium in Miami is located a mere 150 nautical miles (278 kilometers) from Cuba. Many young Cubans dream about playing for teams in the US top division, Major League Baseball (MLB).

Baseball, after all, is Cuba’s number one national sport. A number of leading MLB players in the US today grew up playing the sport on the Caribbean island. Two Cubans are currently hot contenders for the league’s rookie of the year honor.

Reports vary, but at least 11 players are thought to have abandoned Cuba’s baseball team while in Mexico for the Under-23 World Cup last month — and are now bound for the United States. Havana lambasted the players, saying they had deserted the country. One of the first to leave the team last week, the Santiago native Luia Mejias, has already entered the US, according to press reports.

Cuban national sport

The Cubans have a long list of Olympic accolades in baseball, including three gold and two silver medals in the past five Olympic baseball competitions. But Cuba failed to qualify for this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, marking the first time the proud baseball nation missed out on the Games since the sport became an Olympic discipline in 1992. 

Any hopes Havana may have had of salvaging its reputation were dashed when three players from the under-23 squad vanished from the team hotel before the first game. To add insult to injury, Cuba then lost its first match to hosts Mexico.

PR fiasco

Havana said the players who deserted the team suffer from “moral and ethical weaknesses.” Coaches and team assistants made an effort to keep a closer eye on the remaining squad and, according to media reports, banned them from leaving the hotel unsupervised and meeting outsiders.

Despite these added security measures, however, more players escaped. The last player snuck off on Sunday, just as the team was preparing to fly back home. For Havana, the tournament has been a public relations fiasco.

But this is not the first time Cuban baseball players have fled. In May, while participating an Olympic qualifying event in Florida, three players and a team psychologist fled the Cuban delegation .

Exodus of players

The level of baseball played in Cuba has been exceptional, even after the Castro regime banned the professional league in 1961. Even so, Cuba saw a steady exodus of baseball players seeking to advance their careers abroad. Many have headed for the US. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba has seen its financial woes increase, and more baseball players turned their back on the island to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

In 2015, Havana and the MLB reached deal whereby Cuban athletes would be permitted to play in the US top flight baseball league. “Cuba would never have endorsed such an agreement without the ongoing exodus [of Cuban players],” says Francys Romero. The Cuban journalist, who lives in Florida and works for US media outlets, is an expert on the baseball player diaspora. Romero, who wrote the book The dream and reality: Stories of the emigration of baseball, says the 2015 deal ended the exodus from Cuba. The Trump administration, however, rescinded the deal and the current Biden government has made no efforts to revive it.

A matter of survival

Droves of Cuban athletics began leaving the island once more. The disappearance of around a dozen baseball players at once while away in Mexico, however, marks a new, all-time low. Observers believe Cuba’s persistent domestic problems are to blame. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Havana began rationing food stuff. When tourists ceased visiting, Cubans lost a key source of income. And anti-government protests have been suppressed.

For many players, leaving Cuba is more about survival than advancing their professional careers, says Romero. Only few can hope to secure MLB contracts worth several million dollars, according to the sports journalist. “Their chances are not very good.”

Against the odds

Out of the players who have fled, only a handful will make it in the major US league, says Romero. “The others will have to find other ways to make a living, possibly by switching careers.”

Returning to Cuba is out of the question. Anyone who has “deserted” the country is banned from entering Cuba for at least eight years. And family members who have been left behind are rarely permitted to join their loved ones abroad.

The latest runaways clearly think their lives will be better outside of Cuba. They may still hope that their big breakthrough is yet to come.

This article was originally written in German

https://www.dw.com/en/why-cuban-baseball-players-fled-their-country/a-59417825

CSW hands in 2,000 signature petition calling for pastor’s release

1 Oct 2021

CSW staff hand in the petition at the Cuban Embassy in London. Credit: CSW

CSW staff hand in the petition at the Cuban Embassy in London. Credit: CSW

CSW delivered a 2070-signature petition calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Cuban Protestant Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo to the Cuban Embassy in London on 30 September.

Pastor Rosales Fajardo has been detained without trial for over two months following the peaceful protests that emerged across Cuba on 11 July. He is currently being held in the Boniato Maximum Security Prison outside of Santiago de Cuba, and he has been prevented from receiving visits from his wife and family.

The pastor’s wife, Maridilegnis Carballo, and his son who was initially detained at the same time as him, have also been threatened with repercussions if Ms Carballo continues to speak out about her husband’s detention.

CSW’s Head of Advocacy Anna-Lee Stangl said: “CSW continues to stand with the family of Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo as they wait for this husband and father to be returned home. We hope that this petition will send an important message to the Cuban authorities that the world is watching them and that their treatment of Pastor Rosales Fajardo is wholly unacceptable. Once again we urge the international community to hold Cuba to account for its violations of human rights, and to press the Cuban government for Pastor Rosales Fajardo’s immediate and unconditional release at every opportunity.”

Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo and his wife Maridilegnis Carballo

Pastor Lorenzo Rosales Fajardo and his wife Maridilegnis Carballo