CubaBrief: Ladies in White arrested on way to Church. Show trials continue in Cuba. How the Castro regime captures remittances exposed. Jailed artists endangered.

Black female civil rights leader Berta Soler was arrested on her way to Church this past Sunday. Her husband, Angel Moya, former prisoner of conscience delivered the news that his wife and three other women, members of the Ladies in White, were taken by the police. “‘They were arrested at approximately 11 in the morning, when they were preparing to go to Santa Rita,’ Moya said, referring to the church where the women usually attend mass on Sunday before marching,” reported France 24.

This is but one aspect of Cuban government controls, but there are others that are not normally reported on.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady in her January 23, 2022 column in The Wall Street Journal asks an important question “Why Won’t Joe Biden Take On Cuba? The president talks of troubles in the region but never mentions the heart of darkness,” but she then does something even more important, she exposes part of the Cuban dictatorship’s internal blockade, and one of its managers “—the fair-skinned, blue-eyed Gen. Luis Alberto López Callejas— [who] has responded to the humanitarian crisis by circling the wagons to protect his own billion-dollar empire.” Raúl Castro’s former son-in-law through the Cuban military conglomerate GAESA controls the Cuban economy, and captures hard currency remittances providing Cubans with relatively worthless pesos. He also presided over tightening the screws on Cuba’s black market to shut out grassroots competition, reveals O’Grady in her column.

“As informal markets flourished, the government was losing control and, more important, missing out on the capture of hard-currency revenues for itself. In 2019, the military tried to put a stop to this by cracking down on travelers returning to the island with merchandise. It also mandated the use of government-issued debit cards in government stores, where steep markups are routine. The military, through its financial institutions, continued to seize remittance dollars and issue overvalued pesos to the intended recipients. The Miami-based Havana Consulting Group estimates that remittances to Cuba from the U.S. in 2019 totaled $3.7 billion.”

This is part of the internal blockade the Castro regime systematically applies against the Cuban people, and that this blog has been highlighting for months. Thousands of Cubans have signed a petition demanding its end.

Gen. Luis Alberto López Callejas and President Miguel Diaz-Canel

However, despite the claims of the Cuban dictatorship, signing petitions and peacefully protesting can have draconian consequences. The Varela Project petition drive, supposedly legal under Cuban law, led to dozens of petition organizers being sentenced to prison ranging up to 18 and 28 years in 2003. Hundreds of Cubans have been jailed since July 2021 for taking part in nonviolent protests, and we still do not know the full number, and hundreds have been sentenced to long prison terms of up to 30 years. These are not “trials” as generally understood, a formal examination of evidence in order to decide innocence or guilt, but are part of a campaign of terror by the Cuban government to silence dissent in Cuba. This current level of repression harkens back to the 1960s, and the early years of the Castro regime.

Cuba is suffering under 63 years of a brutal and exploitive dictatorship that has only been successful in two areas: organizing an effective police state with an aggressive espionage service, and mastering the art of propaganda. After six decades, it appears that the latter is fracturing.

The propaganda image of the Castro regime, and its claims regarding healthcare and education are crumbling. Laritza Diversent, director of Cubalex, an NGO that provides legal advice to Cubans, “noticed a surprisingly high number of schoolteachers and doctors, two professions” among those arrested in the July 2021 protests that according to The Economist “tend to support the government.” However, the Castro regime made doctors scapegoats.

A little over a month after the 11J protests, CNN reported on August 22, 2021 that “during a visit in August to the hard-hit province of Cienfuegos, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz blamed health care workers’ lack of discipline and “errors” for the breakdown in medical services. Marrero acknowledged residents had complained about a lack of medicines as well but said “they are less than the complaints of mistreatment, of neglect or that [doctors] don’t make visits.”

Sayli Navarro, with her mom Sonia Álvarez Campello, on way to show trial with her dad Félix Navarro Rodríguez (RMP)

Félix Navarro Rodríguez and Sayli Navarro Álvarez were both detained on July 12th, but Sayli was freed shortly after, but her father remains detained, caught COVID-19 behind bars, and is suffering from other ailments. Prosecutor Idania Miranda wants to sentence Félix Navarro to 15 years in prison and his daughter Sayli Navarro Álvarez to 11 years in prison. On Sunday January 23, 2022 regime agents grabbed Sayli to prevent her attending Mass. Their “trials” began on January 24th and will supposedly conclude tomorrow, January 25th.

Maykel Castillo “Osorbo” and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.

Today, Cuban artists are jailed in Cuba. A double grammy winner, Maykel Castillo “Osorbo” may die in prison due to medical neglect, jailed for exercising a fundamental human right, freedom of expression. He is part of the San Isidro Movement, a dissident artist collective based in Havana, its leader Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is on day seven of a hunger and thirst strike. In 2021, Time Magazine listed Luis Manuel as one of the 100 most influential people in the world for 2021. Many fear for both their lives. Yesterday the San Isidro Movement marked day six revealing that in addition to Luis Manuel there are four others on strike with him.

France24, January 24, 2022

Ladies in White opposition leader arrested in Cuba

Berta Soler was arrested ahead of a regular demonstration in support of political prisoners, her husband said RONALDO SCHEMIDT AFP/File

Havana (AFP) – A prominent Cuban dissident was arrested along with three other women in the capital Havana on Sunday, her husband said.

Berta Soler, who leads the Ladies in White protest movement, was held ahead of a regular demonstration in support of political prisoners, former dissident Angel Moya confirmed to AFP.

Long considered the only opposition group the Cuban government allows to march regularly, the Ladies in White movement is made up of the relatives of jailed dissidents, campaigning for their release.

They march almost every Sunday, dressed in white.

“They were arrested at approximately 11 in the morning, when they were preparing to go to Santa Rita,” Moya said, referring to the church where the women usually attend mass on Sunday before marching.

Along with Soler, Ladies in White members Lourdes Esquivel and Gladys Capote, as well as Barbara Ferrat, were arrested by plainclothes police, he said.

He indicated that, “prevented from going to Santa Rita,” the women began a protest outside the Ladies in White headquarters in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana.

Ferrat’s son, 17-year-old Jonathan Torres, was earlier arrested for participating in historic July 11 protests that flared up in about 50 Cuban cities over the summer.

A government crackdown against the unprecedented anti-government revolt left one dead, dozens injured and more than 1,000 people detained, several hundred of whom remain behind bars.

Political opposition is illegal in Cuba and dissidents, often detained for short periods of time, are considered “mercenaries” in the service of the United States.

Moya, one of 75 political prisoners of the so-called Black Spring of 2003, said that “as usual” the police did not say where the detainees were, and he did not know his wife’s whereabouts.

The US embassy in Cuba condemned the arrests.

“The regime should stop harassing activists and concerned mothers. We call for their immediate release and support them and all political prisoners in #Cuba,” the diplomatic mission said on its Twitter account.

© 2022 AFP

The Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2022

Why Won’t Joe Biden Take On Cuba?

The president talks of troubles in the region but never mentions the heart of darkness.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady
Jan. 23, 2022 4:57 pm ET

Pedestrians wearing masks walk on a street in Havana, Jan. 17. Photo: Zhu Wanjun/Zuma Press

During his press conference last week President Biden was asked to comment on U.S. foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere. He riffed on Central America, said he’d spent “a lot of time talking about” Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro, and incoherently referenced Chile and Argentina. He went on to express concern about the shrinking number of democracies in the world.

Yet strangely the president never mentioned the region’s heart of darkness, the 63-year-old military dictatorship in Havana.

Cuba’s intelligence and security apparatuses direct the repression in Venezuela and Nicaragua and support the one-party state in Bolivia. Cuba is actively trying to undermine democratic institutions in Colombia, Peru and Chile. At home it uses torture, imprisonment and exile to put down dissent.

[ Full column ]

The Economist, January 22, 2022

Clamping down

They wanted a voice. Cuba’s Communist regime will give them jail

Around 60 peaceful pro-democracy protesters, some as young as 16, face years behind bars

EMILIO ROMÁN, a resident of La Güinera, a poor neighbourhood in Havana, is the father of three children (pictured), all of whom are currently behind bars. His two sons and daughter, aged 18, 23 and 25, were detained on July 14th last year, after taking part in protests which brought thousands of Cubans out onto the streets. There they demonstrated peacefully against rampant inflation, power outages, and shortages of food and medicine. They also denounced the Communist regime.

That regime has responded with trumped-up charges which will no doubt lead to harsh punishments. As The Economist went to press, the state was holding a series of closed trials. Some 60 protesters are charged with such crimes as public disorder, resisting arrest, robbery, sabotage and sedition. Mr Román’s youngest son has been told that he may face up to 15 years behind bars, though because of his youth his sentence could be reduced to seven. His older son is looking at 25 years.

Miguel Díaz-Canel, the president, has claimed with a straight face that “there are no political prisoners in Cuba.” In fact there were more than 800 at the end of 2021, according to Prisoners Defenders, a Spanish human-rights organisation. Over 1,000 people were detained after the protests in July. Probably most are still in cells.

Before the protests last year, most political prisoners were well-known activists and dissidents. By contrast, those being charged this month are welders, art historians, biologists, athletes, taxi drivers and small-business owners. At least five are as young as 16. Laritza Diversent, the director of Cubalex, a charity that provides legal advice to the families of detainees, noticed a surprisingly high number of schoolteachers and doctors, two professions that tend to support the government.

The regime is clearly spooked by last year’s display of discontent. It is clamping down on any fresh sign of dissent with a new ferocity. A follow-up protest, planned for November, was squashed before it began. Protesters are followed, their phones are tapped and observers are stationed outside their houses. Some have fled abroad to escape such persecution.

The sentences being doled out this month are unusually harsh and long, even for a one-party state. The idea is to make detainees feel helpless, says Ms Diversent. Sadly, it is working. ■