CubaBrief: Communist terror continues in Cuba. Havana revoking foreign journalists visas. Importance of holding oppressors accountable to raise repression’s cost

Mary Beth Sheridan and Gabriela Martinez in their January 19, 2022 article in The Washington Post highlighted a specific case that demonstrates the terror being directly visited upon hundreds of Cubans, and impacting thousands more.

Maykel Rodríguez had gone out to buy food when he came upon the crowd. His neighbors in the Cuban city of Holguin were yelling that they wanted change. They were part of an extraordinary surge of protests across the communist-ruled island last July, as citizens unleashed pent-up frustrations about the lack of food, electricity and freedom.

Rodríguez, a 34-year-old father of three, joined in. Six months later, his family says, Rodríguez is facing up to 28 years in prison. He is among scores of people facing stiff sentences in trials this month for their roles in the demonstrations of July 11 and 12, according to relatives and human rights groups. “He’s being accused of sedition, but Maykel never belonged to an organized group,” said his sister, Elaine Rodríguez, who lives in Miami. “He’d never previously taken part in any protests — ever.”

Cuban dissidents who have taken part in previous protests are also been subjected to cruel and unusual punishments that predate the July 11, 2021 protests. Maykel Castillo Pérez (commonly known as Maykel Osorbo), a Cuban rap artist, has been arbitrarily detained since May 18, 2021, he is suffering from swollen lymph nodes, and he is not receiving adequate healthcare.

Maykel Castillo Pérez, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Eliecer Márquez Duany ( El Funky)

Over the past four years, Amnesty International has on several occasions recognized Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara a prisoner of conscience. His most recent arbitrary detention began on July 11, 2021 and is ongoing. Conditions are terrible, and the injustice of his imprisonment has driven the young artist to initiate a hunger and thirst strike three days ago, according to El Funky in a January 21, 2022 Tweet with a photo of the Cuban artist that states: “Luis Manuel is getting weaker every day. This hunger and thirst strike is already causing irreversible consequences! We demand his immediate release!”

On January 24th and 25th opposition activist and former prisoner of conscience Félix Navarro, his daughter (activist Sayli Navarro Álvarez) and other opposition activists detained during and in the aftermath of the July 11th protests in the Perico Municipality in Matanzas will be subjected to a political show trial. The objective is clear, raising the cost of dissent in Cuba in order to silence Cubans, and intimidate others from recording or reporting on instances of dissent.

Félix Navarro, and his daughter Sayli Navarro

This goes beyond Cuban nationals, and impacts international journalists working on the island. Mercopress reported on January 21, 2022 on how the Spanish foreign news bureau, EFE, that has been operating in Cuba for 50 years is being targeted.

Following the July 2021 uprisings and how information left the island of Cuba and reached the world, the Communist regime has been revoking visas from foreign journalists, it was reported. Gabriela Cañas, President of the Spanish news agency EFE made it clear: “They are about to kick us out of Cuba,” she told US state broadcaster Voice of America this week. She added the island’s Government was making serious journalism almost impossible. Only two EFE correspondents have a valid work permit after the administration of President Miguel Díaz-Canel revoked the accreditation of five EFE reporters in mid-November 2021 and gave no reason for it. If the trend goes on, there is a possibility that the agency may have to end its work on the island after nearly 50 years, Cañas fears.

Many ask: what can be done? The answer is simple: end the Castro regime’s impunity and hold repressors accountable. This can be done at the national and regional level through Global Magnitsky Sanctions, and it also can be done at the international level. These are not mutually exclusive, but complement each other. Four U.S. Senators, two Democrats and two Republicans are calling a United Nations body to demand accountability from Havana on behalf of 45 Cuban children.

“U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) sent a letter to Catherine Russell, the newly-appointed Executive Director of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), urging her to prioritize the protection of at least 45 Cuban children, younger than 17, arbitrarily jailed and prosecuted by the Cuban regime for their participation in the historic July 2021 protests.”

The full letter is available below and on Senator Rubio’s website. It is important to underscore that this is a bipartisan effort. Holding the regime accountable at all levels is the way to make repressors pay a price for the extrajudicial killings, and political show trials jailing hundreds of innocents.

Meanwhile, as the Castro regime and their agents of influence complain about U.S. sanctions, the Cuban government is breaking records in the purchase of agricultural goods from the United States, reports Havana Times in an article by 14ymedio that they translated to English and published on their site.

“The US continues to consolidate its position as the leading supplier of agricultural and food products to Cuba by registering a 144.2% growth in its sales in November compared to the same month of the previous year. Chicken, soybeans, fruit, coffee, ketchup, fresh vegetables and pet food are among the products most purchased by the Island, according to the most recent report of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. The amount went from US $11.3 million in November 2020 to $27.7 million in November 2021, although when compared to $3 million in the same month in 2019, the growth is even more spectacular, 834%.”

U.S economic sanctions target the military dictatorship, and its conglomerate GAESA, not everyday Cubans. The obstacles that average Cubans suffer from is due to the internal blockade of Cuba’s communist dictatorship, and the regime’s laundering of money through remittances . Going along with the regime’s propaganda explaining way all its ills on the embargo is another way of evading accountability and they also need to be called on it.

Mercopress, January 21, 2022

Cuba cracks down on free journalism

“They are about to kick us out of Cuba,” EFE’s Gabriela Cañas said this week

Following the July 2021 uprisings and how information left the island of Cuba and reached the world, the Communist regime has been revoking visas from foreign journalists, it was reported.

Gabriela Cañas, President of the Spanish news agency EFE made it clear: “They are about to kick us out of Cuba,” she told US state broadcaster Voice of America this week. She added the island’s Government was making serious journalism almost impossible.

Only two EFE correspondents have a valid work permit after the administration of President Miguel Díaz-Canel revoked the accreditation of five EFE reporters in mid-November 2021 and gave no reason for it. If the trend goes on, there is a possibility that the agency may have to end its work on the island after nearly 50 years, Cañas fears.

“It has never been easy for journalists to work in Cuba,” says Juliane Matthey, press officer for Latin America at Reporters Without Borders. For years, journalists critical of Cuba have been threatened, attacked and imprisoned. In its “Press Freedom Ranking 2021,” Cuba ranks 171 out of 180, trailing only war zones and other totalitarian states, not taking recent developments into account: “After protests last July, the regime tightened the screws again,” says Matthey.

On July 11, 2021, massive protests erupted in Havana and spread throughout the island, marking the largest demonstrations since the 1959 revolution. Since then, the Communist regime’s repression has been mounting to avoid any new similar occurrence.

Private media outlets are not permitted in Cuba, although a small network of independent news websites have emerged on the Internet. But these publications have been targeted by paralegal groups.

Apart from Government-run TV stations, the only alternative is TeleSUR, founded by former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez and owned jointly by the Governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

The Cuban Regime Fears Free Internet Access and social media are monitored by Government agents. “Good internet access would cost many Cubans half their salary. Many websites are blocked and can only be accessed through a VPN connection,” the Deutsche Welle reported. One of the reasons why the July protests probably died down after only five days was that access to the internet was blocked to prevent coordination among protesting groups.

The suspension of work permits for EFE journalists came a few days before a demonstration planned by the opposition for November 15.

(Source: DW)

https://en.mercopress.com/2022/01/21/cuba-cracks-down-on-free-journalism


Senator Marco Rubio, January 21, 2022

Rubio Leads Bipartisan Letter Urging UNICEF to Protect Cuban Children Detained Following Historic July Protests

Jan 21 2022

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Ben Cardin (D-MD) sent a letter to Catherine Russell, the newly-appointed Executive Director of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), urging her to prioritize the protection of at least 45 Cuban children, younger than 17, arbitrarily jailed and prosecuted by the Cuban regime for their participation in the historic July 2021 protests.

“The Cuban regime is prolific in its use of arbitrary detention as a tool of repression,” the senators wrote. “In 2020 alone, the Observatory of Cuban Human Rights recorded 1,028 arbitrary detentions in Cuba. According to the independent non-governmental organization Justicia 11J, which is documenting the regime’s repression following the July protests, the Cuban regime has detained at least 45 minors between the ages of 14 and 17 for alleged ‘crimes.’ Fourteen of those minors remain behind bars awaiting trial, according to Justicia 11J.”

“We believe that the situation in Cuba warrants the full attention and condemnation of the international community,” the senators continued. “Cuban authorities must know that their brazen acts carry consequences and are unacceptable of any country expecting to be considered a legitimate member of the international community.”

Rubio is the Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues.

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Ms. Russell:

Congratulations on your appointment to become the next Executive Director of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). As you embark on this important position, we urge you to prioritize the protection of at least 45 Cuban children arbitrarily jailed and prosecuted by the Cuban regime for their participation in the historic July 2021 protests. We urge you to demand their immediate release as one of your first actions in your new role.

The Cuban regime is prolific in its use of arbitrary detention as a tool of repression. In 2020 alone, the Observatory of Cuban Human Rights recorded 1,028 arbitrary detentions in Cuba. According to the independent non-governmental organization Justicia 11J, which is documenting the regime’s repression following the July protests, the Cuban regime has detained at least 45 minors between the ages of 14 and 17 for alleged “crimes.” Fourteen of those minors remain behind bars awaiting trial, according to Justicia 11J.

Human Rights Watch reports that those detained after participating in the July protests for freedom have been deliberately deprived of sleep, beaten, sexually assaulted, and held in cells without light for days. Many of those detained have also been accused of “sedition,” which carries a maximum sentence greater than that for murder. One of those detained, Kendry Miranda Cárdenas, is only 17, yet Cuban prosecutors are seeking a sentence of at least 20 years.

Last November, UNICEF joined other international organizations in calling for Cuban authorities to provide more information on the reported cases of children detained in Cuba. Unfortunately, the call for more transparency has been met with extensive reports from the island, many by desperate family members on social media, of harsh sentences that continue to be handed down.

We believe that the situation in Cuba warrants the full attention and condemnation of the international community. Cuban authorities must know that their brazen acts carry consequences and are unacceptable of any country expecting to be considered a legitimate member of the international community.

Given the agency’s child protection mandate, UNICEF is uniquely positioned to lead international condemnation of these unconscionable acts and to demand the release of these youths. With more trials and sentences expected in the days and weeks ahead, we urge you to intercede on behalf of these children and their families, who are merely seeking justice and respect for the basic human rights of Cuban minors.

We are grateful for your attention in this matter and look forward to your swift action in demanding the immediate release of persecuted children in Cuba.

Sincerely,

https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?id=A734C21F-A936-4D2D-B75A-57CC7FA6DBC2


The Washington Post, January 19, 2022

Americas

Cubans who joined July protests now face stiff sentences

The 10 de Octubre Popular Municipal Court in Havana, where detainees have been charged with sedition for participating in the protests that shook Cuba on July 11 and 12. (Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images)

By Mary Beth Sheridan and Gabriela Martinez

Maykel Rodríguez had gone out to buy food when he came upon the crowd. His neighbors in the Cuban city of Holguin were yelling that they wanted change. They were part of an extraordinary surge of protests across the communist-ruled island last July, as citizens unleashed pent-up frustrations about the lack of food, electricity and freedom.

Rodríguez, a 34-year-old father of three, joined in.

Six months later, his family says, Rodríguez is facing up to 28 years in prison. He is among scores of people facing stiff sentences in trials this month for their roles in the demonstrations of July 11 and 12, according to relatives and human rights groups.

“He’s being accused of sedition, but Maykel never belonged to an organized group,” said his sister, Elaine Rodríguez, who lives in Miami. “He’d never previously taken part in any protests — ever.”

The demonstrations were the biggest in Cuba in decades, a national brushfire of anger fanned by messages and videos on social media, which has flourished in recent years. Human rights groups say the government is now holding mass trials and seeking harsh penalties in an effort to deter further unrest.

Cuba’s leaders have long feared change. A big protest shows the risk of resisting it.

Joseph Gonzalez, a professor of Cuban history at Appalachian State University, noted that the country did not experience such demonstrations even during the “Special Period” in the 1990s, when the economy withered after the demise of the Soviet Union, its benefactor.

“This is different because everyone has a cellphone,” Gonzalez said. “So this is a very unusual occasion in Cuban history, and the government knows it and wants to shut it down.”

Cuban authorities have acknowledged the legitimacy of some of the protesters’ concerns. The economy was bludgeoned by the coronavirus pandemic and a decrease in aid from socialist ally Venezuela; the gross domestic product dropped 11 percent in 2020. But authorities blamed the demonstrations on Washington-backed “counterrevolutionaries” it said were taking advantage of a crisis caused by U.S. economic sanctions.

While the demonstrations were mostly peaceful, some participants vandalized shops or vehicles. At least one person died, and several were injured.

New Cuba policy on hold while Biden deals with bigger problems

The government has not said how many of the demonstrators were arrested or charged, and did not respond to a request for comment on the trials. The U.S.-based human rights group Cubalex says 1,373 protesters were detained, and more than 700 remain in prison.

Cuban court officials said in August that 67 people had been tried on relatively minor charges, such as public disorder. Trials that began in December have involved more serious charges, human rights groups say. By the end of this week, about 300 protesters will have gone to court in the most extensive collective trials in decades, according to the groups.

Rodríguez, who ran a small business repairing cellphones, went on trial last week with 20 other people who had joined the demonstration in Holguin, his sister said. He was accused of throwing a rock that hit a police officer in the stomach, she said. He has denied the accusation, she said — he told his family he simply joined people chanting “We want change.”

Elaine Rodríguez said she does not understand why her brother was charged with sedition. “The lawyer said that these are measures aimed at serving as an example to others.”

The ruling is expected on Feb. 11, she said. Her account, like those of other relatives, could not be independently confirmed.

Eloy Bárbaro Cardoso, an 18-year-old student, was also swept up in the demonstrations. His mother, Servilia Pedroso, said he was leaving his grandmother’s house in Havana’s poor La Guinera neighborhood on July 12 when he ran into a crowd protesting the lack of food and medicine. The teenager was detained several days later, accused of public disorder, and freed after paying a fine of 2,000 Cuban pesos — around $83 — his mother said.

Servilia Pedroso, right, mother of 18-year-old student Eloy Barbaro Cardoso, and Yaquelin Cruz, mother of Dariel Cruz, show photos of their sons on Jan. 11 in front of the court building in Havana where they are being tried for participating in the protests. (Ramon Espinosa/AP)

But in September, she said, he was detained again on additional charges, including sedition. At his trial last week, authorities played a video showing Eloy in the midst of a crowd, throwing stones. Prosecutors initially asked for a 15-year sentence, his mother said, but reduced that to seven years due to the youth’s age. The ruling is expected within weeks.

Pedroso said other parents are afraid to speak out. “I can’t be afraid if this involves my son, I can’t be afraid if he’s going to spend seven years in prison,” she said. “It’s not fair. Everyone speaks well of my son.”

Juan Pappier, a senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch, said most of the defendants judged so far have been found guilty. “The crimes are very broadly defined,” he said, including sedition, which includes the use of violence to “disturb the socialist order” or impede government actions. “And the penalties are grossly disproportionate.”

Cuban officials say they respect the rights of all of the detained protesters.

The government is facing one of its greatest crises since the triumph of Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. The pandemic virtually shut down tourism, a mainstay of the economy. Inflation is soaring amid a shortage of imported goods and a monetary reform that effectively devalued the Cuban peso.

Further squeezing the economy are sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, including restrictions on flights to Cuba and limits on remittances. President Biden had pledged to return to the Obama administration’s policy of engagement with the island, but has held off, due in part to concerns about the crackdown on the July protests.

Emilio Román said his two sons joined the demonstrations in Havana spontaneously. He watched in anguish this week as they went on trial for sedition. Emiyoslan, 18, and Yosney Emilio, 25, face possible sentences of 15 and 20 years, the father said. His third child, a 24-year-old daughter, is awaiting trial.

The children are “the part of my life that I live for, that I die for,” he said. “For them, I wake up every morning, and fight for their freedom.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/01/19/cuba-protest-trials/


14ymedio, January 19, 2022

Cuba Steps-Up Food Purchases from the USA

Chicken consumed in Cuba is still mainly bought in the US (14ymedio)

While it complains about unfair conditions, due to the embargo, the Cuban government prefers to buy food from US companies over other more friendly countries and allies.

By 14ymedio

HAVANA TIMES – The US continues to consolidate its position as the leading supplier of agricultural and food products to Cuba by registering a 144.2% growth in its sales in November compared to the same month of the previous year.

Chicken, soybeans, fruit, coffee, ketchup, fresh vegetables and pet food are among the products most purchased by the Island, according to the most recent report of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

The amount went from US $11.3 million in November 2020 to $27.7 million November 2021, although when compared to $3 million in the same month in 2019, the growth is even more spectacular, 834%.

If the data of these same exports made during the first nine months of each year are compared, the growth was 85.4% from January to November 2021, when the US sold agricultural products and food to Cuba worth $276.7 million, compared to $149.2 million in the same period of the previous year.

According to the balance of the last 20 years, the US sold these same products to Cuba for a value of $6,57 billion dollars, an average of 329 million dollars a year.

The report notes that, like every month, the sale of food and agricultural products is authorized by the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSREEA) of 2000 and that allows direct export to the Island from the US in certain conditions among which is the obligation to pay in cash and in advance.

From the Island it is argued that these sales do not deny the impact of the embargo, since they are carried out in “discriminatory conditions,” according to what the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez, said a few months ago.

“These are only unidirectional sales from the United States to Cuba, without the possibility of credit, through the obligation to pay in advance and in cash, and under licenses that the Treasury Department must approve, all of which is incompatible with international trade practices,” claimed.

https://havanatimes.org/news/cuba-steps-up-food-purchases-from-the-usa/