CubaBrief: Time for Havana to permit the Red Cross and other international human rights bodies access to inspect prisons in Cuba

Cuba is the only country in the Americas that Amnesty International, and most other independent human rights monitors, cannot visit.

Consider that between 2002 and 2014 the International Committee of the Red Cross visited the United States detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Cuba 100 times to examine prison conditions there, and wrote critical reports.

These visits have continued to the present day, with an average of four visits per year. During the same period of time the Cuban government, despite repeated requests by the ICRC, has had zero visits to its prisons on the island.

Between 1959 and the present day, visits were only permitted between 1988 and 1989.

Cuban prisoner of conscience in music video Patria y Vida now on hunger and thirst strike

This is why political prisoners, such as Maykel ‘Osorbo’ Castillo, risk dying on hunger strikes protesting unjust prison sentences, mistreatment, and poor prison conditions. Too many have died over the years, and the terrible conditions continue.

Cubans exercising their universally recognized human rights are regularly harmed by regime officials.

Speaking out and peacefully assembling for human rights in Cuba is punished by the Cuban government with violence, prison, and extrajudicial killings.

Nairobis Schery Suárez, wife of Cuban dissident Manuel Cuesta Morúa, who was reported missing on October 25, 2021, was arrested when she left her home and released the next morning on October 26th under threats of prison for both her and her husband if they participated in a non-violent peaceful assembly on November 15th.

Nairobis Schery Suárez

This is why activists, human rights organizations and families of persons jailed in Cuba on April 21, 2021 urged the IACHR to conduct an in person visit to Cuba in order to understand the situation, but this would require the Cuban government approving the visit. Something that has not taken place since 1989. This necessitates international outrage over this intolerable situation.

Pen America, October 27, 2021

Imprisoned Cuban Rapper Maykel ‘Osorbo’ Castillo Begins Hunger Strike

Castillo, a leader of the San Isidro Movement, remains imprisoned at the Pinar del Río prison since May 2021

October 27, 2021

(New York, NY) — Cuban artist and Latin Grammy-nominated rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo, who has been detained at the maximum security Pinar del Río prison since May 2021, began a hunger strike today in protest of his imprisonment and Cuba’s broader crackdown on free expression. Since his latest arbitrary arrest, he has not been guaranteed due process. In a statement today, PEN America and PEN International called on the Cuban government to release Castillo immediately and to end their campaign of brutal repression against Cuban artists.

“We are both horrified and infuriated that the Cuban government continues to keep Maykel Castillo imprisoned merely for peacefully exercising his right to free expression. The fact that he has been pushed to the point where he is willing to put his life and body on the line is unconscionable. We are extremely concerned for him and fear for his life,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “The unfounded charges against Castillo and the complete lack of due process he has received are part and parcel of the Cuban authorities’ ongoing efforts to silence dissent, intimidate artists, and restrict freedom of expression. We call on the Cuban government to drop all charges against Castillo and to cease the harassment and censorship of independent artists, writers, and thinkers.”

“The Cuban authorities try to justify their acts of violence and their escalating repression by inventing allegations against innocent artists and writers in order to silence them. Maykel Castillo Pérez is unjustly imprisoned for exercising his right to free expression, for writing a song, for criticizing his country’s government. Maykel’s case is emblematic of the situation faced by artists, writers, journalists, and human rights defenders in Cuba who criticize the government. It is a tragedy for the world that he has decided to go on hunger strike. Maykel must be released immediately. PEN International will continue to tirelessly defend our Cuban colleagues,” said Romana Cacchioli, executive director of PEN International.

Castillo is a leader of the San Isidro Movement, a collective of Cuban artists, journalists, and intellectuals, and coauthor of the viral song “Patria y Vida,” which became an anthem of the mass protests across the island in late July. On September 28, “Patria y Vida” was nominated for “Best Song of the Year” at the Latin Grammy Awards.

Castillo began his hunger strike today at the Pinar del Río prison in Havana, where he has remained imprisoned after being detained on May 31 of this year and charged by the Cuban Prosecutor’s Office with the crimes of “resistance” and “contempt.” On May 18, he was arrested and held in an unknown location for a week. He is not the only imprisoned artist who has been driven to complete a hunger strike in recent weeks: Fellow artist and activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara underwent a hunger strike from September 27 to October 14 and remains imprisoned.

On August 10, 2021, PEN America and PEN International, along with three partner organizations, issued a joint statement applauding the report submitted by NGO Prisoners Defenders to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which counted more than 120 repressive acts of all kinds against Castillo in a little over a year, in order to silence him from expressing his demands for fundamental freedoms and rights.

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.

14ymedio, October 27, 2021

Cuba’s Political Police Threaten Nairobis Schery with Prison if She Attends the 15 November March

Schery Suárez informed this newspaper that at the beginning of the week when she was arrested as she was leaving her house. (Facebook)

14ymedio, Havana, 27 October 2021 — Activist Nairobis Schery Suárez, wife of Cuban opposition member Manuel Cuesta Morúa, who was reported missing last Monday, told 14ymedio that she was arrested when she left her home and released on Tuesday morning under threats of jail for both her and her husband.

According to her testimony, the man who questioned her made “serious threats about 15N” [November 15] and warned her that both she and Cuesta Morúa could go to prison if they do not abandon their support for the Civic March for Change.

Schery Suárez informed this newspaper that on the day of the arrest she was leaving her house at 10:00 am to visit relatives, but on the way the police stopped the car she was in near the Pan-American Village and took her out of it. “They took my belongings there and I didn’t have time to call my husband to let him know,” she said.

She was then transferred to the Guanabo police unit, where she spent approximately eight hours in an office that, according to her, the officers called ‘the theater.’ “Around eleven o’clock at night they transferred me to the cells until six in the morning, when they took me to an interview with, supposedly, one of the chiefs of the police,” she explains.

“Then they took me to my house in a police car escorted by a ‘Mariana’, as they like to call the women of the Ministry of the Interior who they use to repress activists and who they have also used for acts of repudiation,” adds Schery Suárez.

It is the second time that the activist has been arrested since the call for the march was announced and despite these warnings and threats, Nairobis Schery Suárez told this newspaper that she maintains her support for the march, called for November 15. At the end of September, Cuesta Morúa was also threatened and the political police told him during interrogations that they would not allow the demonstration.

The Archipiélago collective initiative has gathered support in the main Cuban cities, but the repression against activists and citizens who have signed the requests addressed to the provincial governments to carry out the march has increased in recent days. Added to this is a tough campaign in the official media that points to the discredit of its main organizers, accused of being “mercenaries,” and to the mobilization of the government’s repressive forces in view of that day.

CubaLex, October 25, 2021

Activists, human rights organizations and the families of persons deprived of liberty in Cuba collectively urge the IACHR to conduct an in loco visit to Cuba in order to understand the situation

A public hearing titled “Human rights situation in the context of the protest in Cuba” was held today 10/21, during which families, activists and human rights organizations urged the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to request that the Cuban government allow the IACHR to conduct an in loco visit to the country in order to verify the full extent of the situation of persons deprived of liberty.

The hearing took place during the 181st period of sessions, where more than twenty organizations participated, expressing their desire for the IACHR to initiate a dialogue between the Commission, the Cuban government and the participating organizations. Regretfully, the government did not participate in the hearing.

Sayli Navarro, a promoter of Cuba Decide (“Cuba Decides”) and a member of the Ladies in White, told the Commissioners about the detention she and her father suffered on July 11. Felix Navarro, 68, and president of the Party for Democracy “Pedro Luis Boitel,” has not been seen since, and has also contracted COVID in prison. Ms. Navarro also mentioned the cases of José Daniel Ferrer, the national coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU); Fernando González, Roilán Zárraga and José Pupo, members of UNPACU and promoters of Cuba Decide; Keilylli de la Mora and Rosa Jany Milo Espinosa, among others.

Laritza Diversent, the director of Cubalex, expounded that since July 11, Cubalex and the Justicia 11J Working Group have recorded the arrests of 1,130 people, 572 of whom remain deprived of their liberty and several of them having denounced acts of torture and ill-treatment. Diversent also highlighted the cases of vulnerable groups, such as young people, Afro-descendants, women, and members of the LGBTIQ+ community. Although these groups do not represent the majority of arrests, the type of repression committed against them has been disproportionate, causing an exemplary impact in their communities, particularly against those who belong to civil society groups perceived as critical of the government.

Diversent shared about agressions committed against journalists while covering the protests in order to suppress the flow of information. Agressions were registered against 18 journalists – five women and 13 men – from eight independent media outlets. Despite all being released, the majority of them were subject to repeated unlawful house arrest. She also warned about the legal framework implemented by the government to limit freedom of expression in the digital space. After the July 11 protests, Decree-Law No. 35, which legalizes mass interruption in internet access and imposes an obligation on operators and public telecommunications service providers to monitor Internet content, was imposed. Under this regulation, live transmission of demonstrations or online calls for protests can be qualified as harmful dissemination, cyberterrorism, cyberwar, and social subversion, according to Diversent.

Representing the Citizens’ Committee for Racial Integration (CIR) was Osvaldo Navarro Velóz, who shared that the organization had been following arrests against artists in the context of the July 11 protests and the ill treatment of members of his organization by the government “in an attempt to dismiss the many demands of the most marginalized sectors of Cuban society.” As such, he urged that “the support of the entire Inter-American System is vital.”

Michel Matos, a member of the San Isidro Movement – an organization founded in 2018 with the mission of ensuring and safeguarding the cultural rights and human rights of citizens in Cuba – recounted the information that civil society organizations have documented since July 11. At least 39 arbitrary detentions against artists related to protests; abusive use of pre-trial detention either in prisons or in homes; confiscation of work materials; restrictions to leave the country; systematic cuts in communications; and denial of access to essential services such as health or housing.

Finally, Marthadela Tamayo González, a member of CIR and representative of the Council for the Democratic Transition of Cuba (CTDC), denounced that violence against women and their bodies represents only one aspect of systematic cruelty. She referred in particular to the cases of sisters María Cristina and Angélica Garrido Rodríguez, both human rights activists, who were violently arrested by six police officers on July 12 in their homes. Both are mothers and are awaiting trial on charges of alleged contempt, assault and resistance, and for participating in the protest at their place of residence.

The IACHR’s response – led by Commissioner Edgar Stuardo Ralón Orellana, who is the Country Rapporteur – recognized the efforts and courage for the work carried out by organizations in such adverse conditions. Importantly, he also emphasized that the economic embargo should not be argued as the cause for situations that constitute violations of the main freedoms, liberties and human rights. These violations have another cause – “There is no freedom or a democratic government. Until this situation is resolved, it will be very difficult to be able to move forward guaranteeing human rights.”

“We are concerned about violations of due process and disproportionate sentences whose sole objective is to discourage the right to protest and freedoms. The IACHR reiterates its commitment to continue making the situation in Cuba more visible.”

Julissa Mantilla Falcón, first vice president of the IACHR, reiterated the Commission’s commitment to continue monitoring and supporting the work that the organizations are doing, as it represents a hope not only for Cuba but also for the region.

The Commissioners coincided in their concern for the threats emitted by the government in direct opposition for the upcoming announced protests for November 15, and that they will continue to monitor with special attention the situation during the coming weeks.


International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality)

Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina (CADAL)

Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)


Consejo para la Transición Democrática en Cuba (CTDC)

Movimiento San Isidro (MSI)

Comité Ciudadanos por la Integración Racial (CIR)

La Hora de Cuba International


ARTICLE 19 México & Central America

Fundación para la Democracia Panamericana (FDP)

Red Latinoamericana de Jóvenes por la Democracia (Juventud LAC)

Centro de Acción y Defensa por los Derechos Humanos (CADEF)

Impulsa Latinoamérica (IL)

Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)

Unión Patriótica de Cuba (UNPACU)

Instituto Patmos (IP)