CubaBrief: Six months after #11J protests, Cuba is militarized as 57 Cubans on “trial,” including 14 teens, face prison for exercising their rights in July 2021. Families and civil society respond.

2022 does not bode well for human rights in Cuba. Six months after the July 11th protests, the Castro regime is desperately trying to turn the clock back using fear. Another 57 Cubans, including 14 teenagers, began to be subjected to sham “trials” on Monday, January 10, 2022. They will continue to be processed through January 15th, and all indications are that these Stalinist show trials will continue in Cuba, condemning hundreds more to unjust prison sentences. But families are speaking out, and demanding that this travesty be covered by the international media. Over the Christmas holidays, 150+ Cubans across the island were sentenced to up to 30 years in prison for their July 2021 nonviolent protests against the regime in predetermined political “trials” between December 13, 2021 and December 24th (Christmas Eve). News bureaus failed to extensively cover this important story, drawing criticism from families of the detained and Cuban human rights activists.

Courtroom in Communist Cuba

Center for a Free Cuba translated to English and shared Tweets by Mag Jorge Castro with images and declarations by Roxana García Lorenzo, sister of Andy García Lorenzo, the 23-year-old accused of “public disorder” and “contempt”. They shared images of the agents of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR), State Security officers, and Black Berets that surrounded the Villa Clara People’s Provincial Court on social media shortly before the trials began against the July 11, 2021 (11J) protesters of Santa Clara. [ Santa Clara is the capital city of Cuba’s Villa Clara province.]

Andy García Lorenzo: “Ideals are not negotiated, let them do with me what they want.” (Cubanet)

Pro-democracy activist Saily González Velázquez reported over social media on January 10, 2022 that “during this week there will be three trials of at least 57 protesters from 11J in Santa Clara, Holguín and Havana. In Holguín, four minors under 18 years of age will be tried along with other protesters for the crime (against State Security) of sedition.” She appeared on the program “Al Fondo” with Juan Manuel Cao on AmericaTeVeCanal41, and below is an excerpt of the program in Spanish.

Also on January 10, 2022, Nicaraguan activist Sophia Lacayo and former Cuban political prisoner Jorge Luis García Pérez (Antúnez) held an over hour long video conference with Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, to make the case for more political prisoners in Nicaragua and Cuba to be recognized as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. Ms. Guevara Rosas responded, according to a Marti Noticias report, that “Amnesty International will continue to fight for the values of freedom and democracy on the continent and throughout the world.” Our efforts will be aimed at denouncing before the world and international organizations the human rights violations in Cuba and Nicaragua. We will begin the process of evaluation and designation of prisoners of conscience. We will make demands to the governments of Cuba and Nicaragua for the situation of political prisoners and, especially, of children who are political prisoners, for only crying out for freedom, development, and prosperity. “

The U.S. Embassy in Havana expressed over Twitter on the same day that it was “outrageous that 57 Cubans, 14 of them teenagers, from Havana, Santa Clara and Holguín are going to be tried this week with up to 30 years in prison for nonviolently participating in the #11J protests or sharing videos on social networks.”

Nora Gamez Torres reported more in depth on these “trials” for The Miami Herald in the article “More than 50 Cubans arrested during the July 11 protests face trials this week” and interviewed Roxana García Lorenzo, sister of Andy García Lorenzo.

“He was beaten by state security agents, the police. They brutally beat him,” said his sister. “He was on one occasion on a hunger strike, advocating for other prisoners who were not given medical care. My brother has maintained his firm position, that he does not regret having demonstrated on July 11.”

Uniformed agents and paramilitaries in plainclothes in front of the Villa Clara Provincial Tribunal. Roxana García Lorenzo / Facebook

Cuban human rights NGO Cubalex has identified 1,368 detainees related to the 11J protests and another 94 detained during the 15N protests in their excel database. Their latest breakdown shared over social media on January 3, 2022 places the current total at 1,339 with 710 still detained, of which 14 are minors.

NBC News, in their January 8, 2021 article, “Cuban mothers denounce government for holding minors in prison for protesting” finds mothers of the detained taking up the freedom cause, and angered by Castro regime injustices against their children.

“They took away my son — and my fear,” a mother said. While prosecutors are asking for up to 23 years in prison, the mothers say their children were detained and interrogated without the presence of adults

Meanwhile in Cuba, family members are calling on news bureaus to report on the political show trials. International news services have been silent on the matter. This is due to a history of the Castro regime ejecting journalists, and entire bureaus when they reported the real news. This campaign began with EFE, but now includes Reuters, the Associated Press, and Agence France Presse. Below is a graphic by Michael Lima Cuadra, of Democratic Spaces calling for coverage of the “trials”.

There is also silence on and a memory-holing of images of government paramilitaries and the National Revolutionary Police firing on unarmed protesters after being encouraged on July 11, 2021 by Miguel Diaz Canel to take whatever measures necessary to hang on to power.

Families of the international political prisoners are requesting international support. The Center for a Free Cuba, together with other human rights organizations, diplomats, members of parliament, and civil society activists are circulating an appeal for signatures requesting an end to repression in Cuba and the release of all Cuban political prisoners, and requested concrete measures for the international community to achieve it.

This petition, accompanied with all verified signatures, will be delivered to international leaders such as President of the United States Joseph Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, President of the Republic of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda, President of Uruguay Luis Lacalle Pou, President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Tsai Ing-wen, Prime Minister of Sweden Magdalena Andersson, Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and His Holiness Pope Francis.

The Miami Herald, January 10, 2022

More than 50 Cubans arrested during the July 11 protests face trials this week

By Nora Gámez Torres

Updated January 10, 2022 5:58 PM

The police cordoned off the provincial court in Santa Clara, where the trial of 16 Cubans detained during the July 11 protests started Monday. Jonatan López Alonso Facebook. Cortesía.

More than 50 people who took part in the protests on July 11 will go to trial this week, including minors and young Cubans accused of sedition for protesting against the government. The provincial court in Santa Clara, a city in central Cuba where the trial of 16 protesters started on Monday, was cordoned off by the police. About 50 people, including family members and activists, started gathering on Monday morning in the surroundings, anxious to get information about their loved ones, the sister of one of the detainees told the Miami Herald. “Since we arrived here, we have been surrounded by state security, the police, the black berets,” an elite police unit, said Roxana García Lorenzo.

[ Full article ]

14ymedio, January 9, 2021

Family Members of Those Arrested on July 11 in Cuba Plea with EFE to Cover Their Trials

Family members of political prisoner Andy García joined the #EFECubreLosJuicios [EFECovertheTrials] campaign. (Facebook)

Translator: Silvia Suárez

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 January 2022 — The Cuban activist and businesswoman Saily González Velázquez, along with others such as Salomé García Bacallao, and family members of those detained on July 11th (11J), have started a social media campaign for the Spanish news agency, EFE, to cover the prisoners’ trials.

“There is still time for foreign press credentialed in Cuba to cover the trials of political prisoners. Several family members and activists have already joined the campaign [with the hashtags] #EFECubreLosJuicios [EFECovertheTrials] and #SOSCuba. Let’s support them,” said González on Twitter from Santa Clara, where she works in the private sector.

For her part, García Bacallao, emphasized that “from January 11th through the 14th four children will be tried in Holguín for the political crime of sedition,” and until now, the Spanish agency “has not covered a single ordinary trial of more than 200 July 11th protesters.”

Activists and citizens on the Island have joined the initiative on social media using the hashtag #EFECubreLosJuicios as a way to demand the agency inform on the legal proceedings, during which some have received sentences that exceed 20 years in jail. 

González explained to us that she shared the idea with a WhatsApp group that brings together family members of those detained on July 11th and civil society actors. “Every once in a while initiatives to support political prisoners are presented there and it occurred to me to launch this campaign to raise the visibility of the situation, since we already know we have no other way to help them because, in Cuba, the legal tools that would allow us to help them do not exist.”

Furthermore, she says the campaign is based “on the responsibility that EFE has, as an international press agency credentialed in Cuba, to cover these trials,” and because it is often “picked up by other European media.”

Over twenty family members have joined the initiative, says González. “We hope more will join because the important thing is to pressure EFE to respond, if not, to make it clear that the agency is being complicit with the dictatorship and to show the lack of mechanisms available to Cuban civil society and family members of political prisoners to achieve justice.”

Jonathan López Alonso, a relative of political prisoner Andy García Lorenzo, said that what they intend to accomplish with this campaign is “for these communications channels which are credentialed in Cuba and do not do their job, to do it.” This young man’s trial will take place on January 10th and he is accused of public disorder, contempt, and assault.

“They hardly cover any of what the opposition and civil society do in Cuba. EFE covered what happened with Yunior García Aguilera in November when his home was under siege, but it is unjust that they covered that and not this. Why don’t they also do this with the trials, which is so important when they seek sentences of up to 25 years?” denounced López.

Bárbara Farrat Guillén, mother of 17-year-old Jonathan Torres, who has been in prison since August 13th awaiting trial for his participation in the 11J protests, also joined the campaigned, as did activists Daniela Rojo, Camila Rodríguez, and Leonardo Fernández Otaño. The latter, on his messages of support, also makes demands of other international press agencies such as AP, Reuters, AFP or television station CNN.

Although support for the initiative is growing, activist Saily González regrets that family members “still have not decided whether to speak publicly,” and they resist “using the few mechanisms we have to exercise our rights or at least try to,” because in her opinion it is something civil society “would love to” support.

“Family members are not accustomed to using the available mechanisms, almost no citizen here in Cuba is; first of all, they don’t know what they are, they do not perceive themselves as citizens with rights. While they decide, we will continue occupying our own social media, because the streets may belong to the revolutionaries, but social media belongs to us,” she confirmed.

Last November, Cuban authorities rescinded the press credentials of EFE journalists in Cuba, in the lead up to the so-called “illegal” Civic March for Change. Later, some of the credentials were reinstated; however, according to the agency, its delegation in Havana is depleted and it needs its entire team to return to work.

Since then, EFE warned its subscribers that the decision of the Cuban authorities in the last several months “have decimated the delegation’s team,” in Havana where currently, “only two journalists can continue working.”

Translated by: Silvia Suárez

NBC News, January 8, 2021

Cuban mothers denounce government for holding minors in prison for protesting

“They took away my son — and my fear,” a mother said. While prosecutors are asking for up to 23 years in prison, the mothers say their children were detained and interrogated without the presence of adults.

Some of the minors detained after the protests in Cuba last July have turned 18 years old behind bars, according to their mothers. From left, Brandon Becerra, Rowland Castillo, Emiyoslán Román, top, Jonathan Torres Farrat, bottom, and Lazaro Noel.Courtesy of the families

Jan. 8, 2022, 1:59 PM EST / Updated Jan. 8, 2022, 2:08 PM EST
By Jorge Carrasco, Noticias Telemundo

Yudinela Castro has seen her son eight times in the past six months, but in a subdued voice says she would have preferred not to have seen him.

“It would have been better not to have visited him in prison, because he came out full of scabies, with a bad smell and a hellish color. He had not been able to bathe for days,” the mother said in a phone call from Havana.

Castro said her son, Rowland Castillo, 17, was arrested in the middle of the street and interrogated without the presence of his parents or a lawyer. He was transferred to an adult prison just days after the July 11 protests, when thousands of Cubans like him demanded “freedom” in cities across the island during the largest demonstration in six decades of communism.

Rowland Jesús Castillo Castro with his mother, Yudinela Castro.Yudinela Castro

Castillo, who turned 18 behind bars, awaits an undated trial. Cuban prosecutors are asking for 23 years in prison for the crime of sedition, one of the most common measures applied against protesters who “disturb the socialist order,” according to the Cuban Penal Code.

The Cuban government has detained at least 45 minors between the ages of 14 and 17 for their participation in last summer’s protests, according to the group Justicia 11J, made up of activists, independent journalists and lawyers who are documenting the government’s repressive measures after the demonstrations. According to Justicia 11J, 14 of those minors remain behind bars awaiting trial. Others have been released on bail or house arrest. 

In recent weeks, the government has held trials against at least 204 protesters, according to the group. Some 20 people are already serving prison sentences of between 12 and 30 years for participating in the protests or broadcasting them on social media.

Neither the Cuban government nor the state press — the only one legally permitted on the island — has released information or figures on the detainees, trials and convictions. The official discourse has delegitimized the demands of the protesters, accusing them of being “organized and financed from the United States.”

Cubalex, an independent legal body based in Miami, estimates that some 700 people are still in prison and that 500 have been released pending trial or after receiving sanctions and fines for such common crimes as public disorder, instigation to commit crime and spread of Covid-19.

“The age (of detainees) that is most recorded is 21 years old,” Salomé García Bacallao, one of the organizers of Justicia 11J, told Telemundo News. She said it’s a way to “teach a lesson” to a young generation that had a strong presence during the protests.

Noticias Telemundo has reached out to the Cuban government but has not received a response.

Parents report threats and layoffs

Four families interviewed by Noticias Telemundo said their underage children had been questioned without the presence of adults or lawyers. Some of them were picked up on the street and their parents weren’t informed about their whereabouts for days or weeks. During their detention, they have contracted diseases such as Covid-19, scabies and dengue, families say.

“My son had never been ill,” said Yanaisy Curbelo. Her son, Brandon Becerra, was arrested at the age of 17 last July and has been in the Jóvenes de Occidente prison in Havana for six months. Prosecutors are asking for a sentence of 18 years in prison for the crime of sedition.

“The worst things in his life have happened,” said Curbelo, adding that her son contracted the coronavirus and hepatitis in prison. “My son didn’t know about police, handcuffs or anything political, he was studying for a bachelor’s in Spanish language. And I saw him handcuffed as if he had killed Raúl Castro.”  

The United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF in Cuba, declined to comment about the specific allegations of minors being detained and interrogated without the presence of adults, which violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty to which Cuba is a signatory.

“UNICEF Cuba is in permanent contact with the Cuban authorities and carries out actions aimed at strengthening mechanisms for the protection of children and adolescents, working with their counterparts in a coordinated and transparent manner,” a spokesperson for the office based in Havana said via email.

In November, after pressure and complaints on social networks, the agency stated in a tweet that it was “worried about the alleged cases of detention of children reported in Cuba” and urged the authorities to provide information to verify the status of any minors in that situation.

Some of the younger teens arrested after the July protests were 14-year-old Christopher Lleonart, who was detained for a month and stopped receiving treatment for a psychiatric condition, according to complaints the family made. Glenda de la Caridad Marrero, a 15-year-old girl living in the province of Matanzas, was also arrested and accused of leading the protests there. Both were later released.

“I came to see my children after three months in prison,” said Emilio Román, father of Emisyolán Román, who was arrested when he was 17 and turned 18 while in jail. The teenager’s two brothers, 24 and 25 years old, are also in jail and were charged with sedition.

“It is too difficult to hear how many years they ask for each one of them. They ask the youngest for 15 years, the oldest 20 years and the middle 25 years,” Román said from Havana. “We are awaiting trial.”

Other parents say they’ve been pressured by the government after they’ve posted complaints on social networks.

Bárbara Farrat, the mother of Jonathan Torres Farrat, 17, who was arrested at her home on August 13, said that government agents have threatened to deny her visits to prison if she continues to post on social networks.

Jonathan Torres Farrat, 17, with his mother, Bárbara Farrat.Bárbara Farrat

“They also told me that I had to make a video speaking well of this country,” she said. Farrat went on a hunger strike in December as a form of protest and tattooed her son’s name on his arm along with the phrase “Patria y Vida,” the song that has become an anthem against the communist government.

“When they took the greatest thing from me, my son, they also took away my fear,” she said. “This whole situation has made me declare myself an activist. And as long as a minor is detained, I will continue to denounce it.”

Yudinela Castro said she was fired from her job with a state agricultural company days after her son, Rowland Castillo, was arrested. They told her that the family’s political affiliation was the reason, she said.

“I was head of quality control at Acopio. They took my son on July 16 and on the 23rd they let me go. They told me I wasn’t trustworthy because of what my son did,” she said.

“An entirely political crime”

Activists say that the crime of sedition, applied to more than a hundred protesters, is the new face of political repression on the island, where protests are rare and quickly suppressed. Justicia11J has registered more than 140 people accused of sedition.

“The crime of sedition is an eminently political crime against state security. This demolishes the discourse that there are no political prisoners in Cuba,” said García, one of the organizers of Justicia11J.

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the shortage of food and medicine after tourism, one of the main sources of income, was almost completely halted. The economy shrunk by 13.4 percent in the first quarter of last year, according to official data.

Cuba saw a wave of protests that was unprecedented in the recent history of the island, where a little more than 11 million people live.

The government responded to last summer’s protests with widespread internet shutdowns, more security forces on the streets and arrests. A number of journalists, artists and more organized political dissidents are in jail awaiting trial, under house arrest or have gone into exile.

An earlier version of this story was originally published in Noticias Telemundo.