CubaBrief: Roll Call of Nations remembers Cuban political prisoner. Successful Freedom Summit carried out parallel to the Summit of the Americas. Note on numbers of Cuban prisoners

Today in Washington, DC at the 15th annual Roll Call of Nations Wreath Laying Ceremony and Presentation of the Dissident Human Rights Award by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. The invocation at the start of the gathering by Reverend Canon Charles H. Nalls, Rector, Church of the Epiphany, remembered a Cuban political prisoner who attended the gathering in previous years, but was not present on this day. “We learned a few moments ago of the death of Basilio Guzman, a faithful servant in the struggle. Let us observe just a moment of silence for him and all the fallen.”

Basilio Guzman remembered today in the Roll Call of Nations for victims of Communism

Throughout this week in Los Angeles, California in events running parallel to the IX Summit of the Americas that highlighted the plight of Cuban political prisoners, and the overall human rights situation in Cuba.

On June 8th, the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, CubaDecide, and the Transatlantic Parliamentary Forum held a Summit of Freedom with a showing of the documentary “The Attack on Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero” and featured Latin Grammy Award winners El Funky and Yotuel Omar Manzanares Romero who spoke out on racism in Cuba, and performed their co-written song together with Cuban prisoner of conscience Maykel Castillo.

The Orange County Register published a column on June 9, 2022 titled “Thousands of Cubans remain jailed, just for calling for change” by the Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba. The specific number referenced, over 1,400 Cubans detained, focuses on the Cubans arrested for their participation in the July 11, 2021 nonviolent protests that continued until July 13th, and is known by Cuban human rights defenders as 11J.

However, the overall number is much larger.

Civil Rights Defenders, based in Sweden, and Prisoners Defenders, based in Spain co-hosted a news conference on January 13, 2020 in Madrid, Spain that revealed that thousands of Cubans are jailed for what they think, say, or may potentially do in the future. Present at the briefing was Edel González Jiménez, a Cuban judge, “who spent more than 15 years on the bench and once supervised 65 other judges, [and his revelations] are believed to be the first public challenge to the Cuban government by a top member of the judiciary.”  The former judge is now residing in Peru, but is speaking openly about the Cuban legal system he worked in.

According to the January 13, 2020 article published in The New York Times on the event, documents were examined that “showed that approximately 92 percent of those accused in the more than 32,000 cases that go to trial in Cuba every year are found guilty. Nearly 4,000 people every year are accused of being ‘antisocial’ or ‘dangerous’, terms the Cuban government uses to jail people who pose a risk to the status quo, without having committed a crime.” Furthermore, the article says that “records show that Cuba’s prison system holds more than 90,000 prisoners. The Cuban government has only publicly released the figure once, in 2012, when it claimed that 57,000 people were jailed.”

The numbers of prisoners in Cuba are some of the largest per capita in the world.

Nevertheless the struggle for a free Cuba continues, and the night will not be eternal.

Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, CubaDecide, and the Transatlantic Parliamentary Freedom Summit

Orange County Register, June 9, 2022


Thousands of Cubans remain jailed, just for calling for change

If Cuban officials were ever allowed to join other nations at the Summit of the Americas, they should be asked about more than 1,400 Cuban citizens jailed on the island since last year’s protests.

Protesters against the government in Cuba gather outside the Summit of the Americas at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

While Cuba protests exclusion from the America’s Summit in Los Angeles, stressing the importance of respectful civic dialogue, the world’s eyes should take notice on how protest inside the island is handled.

It’s certainly not with a respectful eye toward civic dialogue, much less debate.

Since last year’s summer protests — thousands, including kids — remain behind bars.

Human rights organizations have identified over 1,400 Cubans detained during the July 11-13, 2021 nonviolent protests.

Trials of what are now called 11J protesters — named after the July 11 popular outburst — continue with prison sentences of up to 30 years for yelling anti-government slogans in the street while banging pots and pans or recording them.

When these national protests broke out, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, handpicked by Cuba’s actual ruler Raul Castro, appeared on state television shortly after the protests started, saying, “the order of combat is given, revolutionaries take to the streets.”

This command incited regime security forces to commit violence: shooting and killing unarmed demonstrators.

But unlike on other occasions inside Cuba, many of these atrocities were recorded and uploaded to the internet.

Authorities recognized one death in these protests.

Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, a 36-year-old singer, was shot in the back by the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) in Havana on July 12.

There are many others who aren’t accounted for.

Christian Díaz, age 24, disappeared after joining the protests. Relatives on July 12 reported him missing to the PNR in Cárdenas. Police told his father that Christian was jailed in Matanzas.

On Aug. 5, officials informed his family he’d drowned in the sea and was buried in a mass grave.

His family is convinced he was beaten to death.

There are many others, but they have not been officially recognized as family members have been threatened to keep silent.

There was also a harsh approach to those residents who documented abuses.

On July 11, 2021 Exeynt Beirut, age 41, was detained in Guantanamo, Cuba for taking part in the protests.

He was sentenced to four years in prison.

His father Fredy, age 64, and sister Katia, age 36, who went out the next day to film the protests were each sentenced to 20 years in prison.

German tourist and dual citizen Luis Frómeta Compte was sentenced to 25 years in prison on December 23, 2021 for spontaneously filming a demonstration in Havana for private purposes with his smartphone while visiting relatives and was subsequently arrested.

Regime officials are also punishing Cubans who speak out about their imprisoned loved ones.

Rolando Castillo was arrested on May 18, 2022 and then had an “express trial” without an attorney and sentenced to two years in prison, with less than two hours notice for his hearing.

His crime?

Protesting the arrest of his 17-year-old son Rowland Jesús Castillo Castro, who is now serving an 18-year prison sentence for protesting on July 11, 2021.

Yudinela Castro Pérez, mother of 18-year-old Rowland Jesús Castillo Castro, an 11J protester condemned to 12 years in prison, was arrested and taken to the secret police headquarters in Havana on Feb. 24, 2022. Because she was outspoken in defense of her son, Yudinela was charged with contempt and detained for 15 days. Days after her release Yudinela attempted suicide, but survived.

Unfortunately, the island’s repressive side is nothing new.

Cuban citizens continue to be systematically denied fundamental human rights available in any country invited to the Summit of the Americas, including the right to freely express themselves and associate freely.

John Suarez is executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba.

From the archives

The New York Times, January 13, 2020

Former Judge Says Cuba’s Judiciary Is Rigged Against Dissidents

Edel González Jiménez says he is not a defector, but a firm believer in the Cuban system who wants to see it reformed.

Edel González Jiménez, who spent more than 15 years as a judge in Cuba, in Madrid last week. Credit…Gianfranco Tripodo for The New York Times

By Frances Robles

A former high-ranking judge in Cuba has joined an antigovernment activist in revealing information from secret government documents that show the government is holding thousands of inmates on dubious charges and has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

The revelations by Edel González Jiménez, who spent more than 15 years on the bench and once supervised 65 other judges, are believed to be the first public challenge to the Cuban government by a top member of the judiciary.

“The repression that I am seeing against part of my people is not what I want for my people,” he said during a news conference on Monday in Madrid, where he was joined by members of an organization that works on behalf of political prisoners in Cuba and by members of the European Parliament. “I have a lot of fear about the future. Every day Cubans face more fear. I don’t want blood on the streets of Cuba, I don’t want these imprisonments.”

Choking back tears, Mr. González told the audience that his wife had advised him not to speak out, but that he had gone against her wishes because he felt it was his duty to challenge the government.

Mr. González said that Cuba’s judiciary was often controlled by state security forces that can manufacture cases against political opponents — a statement that critics will readily agree with, but that is surprising coming from a man who insisted that he remains a faithful member of the Communist Party of Cuba and a believer in Fidel Castro’s project.

His avowed support of the government makes his words significantly troubling for a country that frequently paints dissidents as mercenaries on Washington’s payroll.

“I am not looking for problems,” Mr. González, who left Cuba in 2018 and now lives in Peru, said in an earlier interview. “But I decided: Enough with cowardice.”

Mr. González was joined at the news conference by Javier Larrondo, a longtime anti-Castro activist who runs an organization called Prisoners Defenders in Madrid, in publicly announcing his call for the Cuban government to respect civil rights.

“This is an important blow to the regime,” Mr. Larrondo said.

Documents reviewed by The New York Times showed that approximately 92 percent of those accused in the more than 32,000 cases that go to trial in Cuba every year are found guilty. Nearly 4,000 people every year are accused of being “antisocial” or “dangerous,” terms the Cuban government uses to jail people who pose a risk to the status quo, without having a committed a crime.

Such measures are often used against young black men to stifle potential social uprisings, said Orlando Gutiérrez, an activist in Miami.

Those accused of being a threat are subjected to summary trials and have no right to a defense or to present evidence, Mr. González said. The records show that 99.5 percent of the people accused of this are found guilty.

Mr. Larrondo released Cuban court documents showing that dozens of men received sentences between two and four years in prison for offenses falling broadly under the category of “antisocial” — a phrase that can be applied to people who are unemployed, do not belonging to civic organizations associated with the state, behave disorderly and harass tourists, and associate with similarly “antisocial” people.

In case after case, the description of the crime is identical, suggesting that the police cut and pasted the language in the investigative report.

Arianna López Roque, 29, said that when her husband, Mitzael Díaz Paseiro, was sentenced to three and a half years for being “dangerous” in Mr. González’s judicial district, the court was “completely militarized.” He was not permitted to have a defense lawyer and only members of his immediate family were allowed to attend.

“The court in Cuba is manipulated by the dictatorship,” she said. “You don’t have the opportunity to defend yourself in any manner against what they say.”

Mr. González said that in ordinary criminal cases, judges are independent and free of government influence. But he said that cases against dissidents like Mr. Díaz are orchestrated by the state security apparatus, because judges, fearful of losing their jobs, go along with evidence that is often flagrantly concocted, he said.

The records show that Cuba’s prison system holds more than 90,000 prisoners. The Cuban government has only publicly released the figure once, in 2012, when it claimed that 57,000 people were jailed.

“What is important is what is behind those numbers,” Mr. González said. “People are in prison for stealing flour, because they are pizza makers and the government has set up a system where the only way to get flour is by buying in the black market from someone who stole it from the state.”

Still, Mr. González insisted on Monday that there was time for Cuba to resolve its problems internally, and he warned against any outside interference. “We will not allow anybody to impose anything, that should be clear to all countries. Cubans can manage this alone without any kind of interference,” he said.

Mr. González also cautioned against coming to the conclusion that the high number of prisoners in Cuba was proof of a failed society and judiciary. Other countries, he said, had fewer prisoners, but that reflected a high level of “impunity” and failure to prosecute common and violent crime, while Cuba instead “maintains social order.”

Officials at the Cuban Embassy in Washington and the Cuban judiciary did not respond to requests for comment, as is customary.

Eloy Viera Cañive, an independent legal analyst in Cuba, said the Communist Party and Ministry of Interior always have the last word in Cuba’s judiciary.

“This is a police state, and the Ministry of Interior has a lot of influence, even on judges,” Mr. Viera said. “True independence is impossible.”

Mr. González had a humble upbringing in Caibarién, a coastal town in central Cuba, where his mother was a restaurant cook and his father managed a government transportation warehouse.

In 1973, his uncles were among 11 fishermen on state-owned vessels attacked at sea by anti-Castro fighters from abroad, who were trying to force the men to defect. The attackers set fire to the boats, killed one man, and cut the throat of one of his uncles, who survived, even after being left adrift to die. The episode marked the family, turning them against those who tried to topple the Cuban government.

“We have always had a vocation of supporting the system,” he said.

After Fidel Castro fell ill in 2006, his brother Raúl Castro assumed the presidency. In a seismic shift for a country where hundreds of people have served long prison sentences for speaking out against the Communist Party, he organized community town halls and let it be known that Cubans were welcome to voice their opinions about vexing food shortages and other disappointments.

Although Raúl Castro stepped down from the presidency in 2018, he retained a great measure of control by remaining the head of Cuba’s Communist Party. That is, in part, why Mr. González is convinced that his announcement might actually be perceived as the kind of constructive criticism Raúl Castro encouraged.

Mario Félix Lleonart, a Baptist minister from the central province of Villa Clara who left Cuba as a political refugee in 2016, laughed out loud at the thought that Mr. González could return to his old job.

The two met 20 years ago when the minister’s wife was a secretary at the civil courthouse, and Mr. González was assigned to find out more about her political activities. Mr. González was surprisingly respectful and professional, the minister recalled.

“Edel was a brilliant student of law and the government kept promoting him,” he said. “But as he continued rising, his curiosity rose too. He realized his country was not in order.”

Last year, Mr. González’s former boss, Rubén Remigio Ferro, president of the Cuban Supreme Court, told the state newspaper, Granma that although the administration of justice on the island is improving, “deficiencies” still exist, such as trial delays, misguided decisions and a lack of professionalism.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel told judges while inaugurating the new judicial calendar last week that the courts must “remain a system that is distinguished first and foremost by its ethics, its transparency and the honest behavior of its members.”

Mr. González is betting that public criticism from someone who believes in the system the Castros built will trigger dialogue between longtime enemies of the Cuban government and loyal insiders who wish to see improvements in areas such as human rights.

He also hopes, eventually, to return to the island, where his 14-year-old daughter lives, to reclaim his job in Villa Clara.

“My wife says I’m too much of a dreamer,” Mr. González said.

Raphael Minder contributed reporting.

Frances Robles is a national and foreign correspondent based in Miami. Before joining The Times in 2013, she worked at the Miami Herald, where she covered Cuba and was based in both Nicaragua and Colombia.