CubaBrief: Political show trials continue in Cuba. Oswaldo Payá bio explores Varela Project’s relevance in Cuba. How Havana repeatedly weaponizes mass migration.

CubaBrief: Political show trials continue in Cuba. Oswaldo Payá bio explores Varela Project’s relevance in Cuba. How Havana repeatedly weaponizes mass migration.

Political show trials continue in Cuba

Agence France-Presse (AFP)  reported on June 23rd that “judicial authorities in Havana, Santiago and Matanzas announced sentences for 74 defendants accused of sedition, public disorder, and other crimes related to the protests. Two defendants were acquitted. Of those who were sentenced, 56 got between 10 and 18 years behind bars, while the other 18 — including 12 teenagers — had their sentences commuted to ‘correctional labor.’ Those convicted ‘attacked the constitutional order and stability of our socialist state,’ the prosecutor’s office said.”

Agence France-Presse (AFP) also reported on June 17th, that another 33 participants in the July 11 – 13 protests in Cuba “received their final sentences” … “reported the Attorney General’s Office.” On Thursday night, the prosecutor’s office published a statement informing “that of the 33 participants in the protests in Havana and in the neighboring province of Mayabeque, who had appealed their sentences in the first instance, ’30 were sentenced to imprisonment’, 20 of them between five and 10 years and another 10 between 10 and 18 years.” Two others were sentenced to “correctional work without internment”, and a third to “limitation of liberty.”

The Cuban dictatorship’s attorney general’s office in a statement released to state media on Monday, June 13, 2022, said a total of 297 Cubans were sentenced to between 5 and 25 years in prison for crimes of sedition, sabotage, robbery with force, and public disorder. This did not include 67 others jailed in summary trials, many without an attorney, to sentences ranging from eight to 12 months in prison, according to data provided by CubaLex.

This brings the total number of Cubans sentenced to prison time to 450 related to the 11J protests. However, there are another 279 Cubans detained, because of their role in the 11J protests. This brings the total number of Cubans jailed for 11J protests to 729, according to Cubalex. According to the Cuban government 790 Cubans, including 55 minors, had been prosecuted for the July demonstrations.

The Cuban dictatorship does not permit international or domestic oversight of prison conditions, good statistics on its overall prison population are difficult to come by, and officials infrequently provide data on prisons. This data cannot be independently verified. The UN Committee Against Torture on April 29, 2022 reported that the Cuban government had not provided prison population figures since 2012. Information is provided sporadically, and is misleading.The International Committee of the Red Cross do not have access to Cuban prisons.

Oswaldo Payá biography explores Varela Project’s continuing relevance in Cuba.

Ofelia Acevedo, widow of Oswaldo Payá, introduced the panel discussion on June 22, 2022. (Photo: CFC)

“It’s been a decade since Cuba’s most prominent dissident, Oswaldo Payá, died in a suspicious car accident on the island. An important new biography of Payá by [ David E. Hoffman ] was presented at Books & Books in Coral Gables Wednesday night, and WLRN spoke with the author.” The full article is reproduced below. Not mentioned in the article was that Ofelia Acevedo, Oswaldo’s widow, introduced the panel discussion and expressed her gratitude to David Hoffman for undertaking the task of writing the book.

Twenty years ago on May 10, 2002, carrying 11,020 signed petitions in support of the Varela Project, the Christian Liberation Movement’s Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and Regis Iglesias Ramirez delivered them to the Cuban National Assembly.

The Varela Project, named after the Cuban Catholic Priest Felix Varela, sought to reform the Cuban legal system to bring it in line with international human rights standards. They had followed the letter of the law in organizing the campaign.

Former President James Carter visited Cuba in May 2002 and on May 15th gave a speech at the University of Havana, where he advocated for the lifting of economic sanctions on Cuba and “called for the Varela Project petition to be published in the official newspaper so that people could learn about it.”

The Cuban dictatorship’s initial response to the nonviolent citizen’s initiative, and to President Carter’s request was to first coerce Cubans into signing another petition declaring the Constitution unchangeable and quickly passed it through the rubber stamp legislature without debating the Varela Project, which according to the Cuban law drafted by the dictatorship meant that it should have been debated by the National Assembly.

Next, the dictatorship responded with a crackdown in which 75 dissidents, over 40 of them Varela Project organizers, were jailed to prison terms of up to 28 years in prison. Both Antonio Diaz Sanchez, and Regis Iglesias Ramirez were among the jailed. The official media announced, at the time, that the Cuban dissident movement had been destroyed.

Oswaldo responded to the crackdown, campaigning for the release of his compatriots, and delivering another 14,384 petition signatures on October 5, 2003, and continued to gather more.

Furthermore, the wives, sisters and daughters of the activists who had been detained and imprisoned organized themselves into the “Ladies in White.” A movement that sought the freedom of their loved ones and organized regular marches through the streets of Cuba, despite regime organized violence visited upon them. This new movement was led by Laura Inés Pollán Toledo, a former school teacher.

Antonio Diaz Sanchez and Regis Iglesias Ramirez with Oswaldo Payá delivering petitions in 2012, and with David Hoffman at Books and Books on June 21, 2022

Antonio Diaz Sanchez and Regis Iglesias Ramirez were released from prison into forced exile in 2010. They and other MCL activists met with David Hoffman, and were interviewed for this book.

There are four important documentaries where you can hear the voice of Oswaldo Payá. Two are Czech based productions: Voces de la Isla de la Libertad (2000), La Primavera de Cuba [The Cuban Spring] (2003), one is U.S. based: Dissident: Oswaldo Payá and the Varela Project, and one is produced by the Cuban diaspora: The truth about the murder of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero (2022).

How Havana repeatedly weaponizes mass migration

Nora Gámez Torres reports in the Miami Herald that “the number of Cubans fleeing poverty and oppression on the island surpassed the Mariel exodus of 1980, as U.S. government data reveal that more than 140,000 Cubans were detained at U.S. borders between October last year and May.”

What appears mysterious, at first, is the data presented by the U.S. government. The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the severe economic crisis hitting Cuba was in late 2020 through mid 2021, but the peak months of Cubans arriving in the United States were between February 2022 and May 2022 with a total of 109,823 entering in four months.

In November 2021 the Ortega dictatorship in Nicaragua lifted the visa requirements for Cubans. There is an interesting correlation that when U.S. officials met with Venezuelans, a client state of the Castro dictatorship, on March 5, 2022 coincided with the month that the exodus from Cuba doubled from 16,657 in February 2022 to 32,398 Cubans arriving in the United States in March 2022. This was followed by a further increase in the month of April 2022 to 35,080 Cubans entering the United States when the Biden Administration announced migration talks with the Cuban government. Following the announcement of unilateral concessions by Washington on May 16, 2022 the number of Cubans entering decreased by more than 10,000 in the month of May 2022.

This is not the first time that Havana has weaponized immigration. This blog warned about it in mid-2021.

Professor Kelly M. Greenhill, an American political scientist and an associate professor at Tufts University, in her 2002 paper “Engineered Migration and the Use of Refugees as Political Weapons: A Case Study of the 1994 Cuban Balseros Crisis” described how a pattern was first established in the 1965 Camarioca crisis during the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration by the Castro regime using “coercive engineered migration” to create instability in the United States to obtain concessions. Professor Greenhill in her paper exposed how this pattern was repeated during the Carter Administration in 1980 with the Mariel Crisis and again during the Clinton Administration in 1994 with the Balsero Crisis. During Obama’s detente with Cuba between 2014 and 2016 over 120,000 Cubans entered the United States in another migration surge. This was at a time of loosened sanctions, and under an Administration seeking normalized relations that provided an influx of international credits.

Luckily, Cuba watchers will have the opportunity to engage with Professor Greenhill on July 1, 2022 when she will provide an update on “Weapons of Mass Migration: Insights and Lessons from U.S.-Cuban Relations, 1965-Present” organized by Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute. You can register here https://go.fiu.edu/weapons-of-mass-migration.

Barron’s, June 22, 2022
FROM AFP NEWS

Cuba Sentences 74 More Anti-government Protesters To Up To 18 Years

By AFP – Agence France Presse

June 22, 2022

The 74 latest sentences bring the total number of people sentenced as part of the demonstrations to 488.

In January, the government said 790 people, including 55 minors, had been prosecuted for the July demonstrations.

The Cuban government accuses the United States of being behind the protests.

The Cuban National Assembly in May approved a new criminal code, including stricter punishments for offenses such as “participation in subversive activities,” in an effort to prevent a repeat of the July protests.

Cuban courts issued prison terms — some up to 18 years — for another 74 people involved in last summer’s unprecedented anti-government protests, officials said Wednesday.

Judicial authorities in Havana, Santiago and Matanzas announced sentences for 74 defendants accused of sedition, public disorder, and other crimes related to the protests. Two defendants were acquitted.

Of those who were sentenced, 56 got between 10 and 18 years behind bars, while the other 18 — including 12 teenagers — had their sentences commuted to “correctional labor.”

Those convicted “attacked the constitutional order and stability of our socialist state,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Mass protests broke out across Cuba on July 11 and 12 last year, with demonstrators demanding freedom amid economic strife, shortages of food and medicine, and growing anger at the government. They were the biggest protests in Cuba since the 1959 revolution.

A crackdown by the security forces left one dead, dozens injured and 1,300 people detained, according to the Justicia 11J civil society organization.

In previous court proceedings some protesters were jailed for up to 25 years.

https://www.barrons.com/articles/cuba-sentences-74-more-anti-government-protesters-to-up-to-18-years-01655951408


WLRN, June 23, 2022

News

Payá biography recounts how the Varela Project laid the groundwork for today’s Cuban dissident push

WLRN 91.3 FM | By Tim Padgett

Published June 23, 2022 at 5:53 AM EDT

Oswaldo Paya at work in his Havana home on the Varela Project petitions

David Hoffman’s “Give Me Liberty” examines Oswaldo Payá’s odyssey from a defiant young Catholic to the dogged dissident who rattled Cuba’s communist state.

It’s been a decade since Cuba’s most prominent dissident, Oswaldo Payá, died in a suspicious car accident on the island. An important new biography of Payá was presented at Books & Books in Coral Gables Wednesday night, and WLRN spoke with the author, David E. Hoffman.

WLRN is committed to providing the trusted news and local reporting you rely on. Please keep WLRN strong with your support today. Donate now. Thank you. 

The Cuban regime denies it, but many believe it was responsible for Payá’s 2012 death — because few dissidents ever challenged, and rattled, the communist state as seriously as Payá did. At the turn of the century, his petition drive, known as the Varela Project, collected tens of thousands of bona fide signatures from Cubans demanding a referendum for democratic change such as free elections.

The Cuban Revolution had never been confronted with that widespread and adamant expression of popular dissent.

The late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, of course, never permitted the plebiscite those signatures were supposed to trigger under the Constitution; he instead threw scores of Varela activists in prison. But in “Give Me Liberty: The True Story of Oswaldo Payá and His Daring Quest for a Free Cuba,” Hoffman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Washington Post editorial writer, recounts how that David-versus-Goliath drama laid the groundwork for Cuban dissident movements today, including last summer’s “Patria y Vida” protests.

“Oswaldo would say: ‘Conquer your fear; demand your rights,'” Hoffman told WLRN.

“Your rights are given to you by God and not by the state. So be the protagonists of your own history.’ And I think actually that’s what movements like ‘Patria y Vida’ and San Isidro are about now.”

Hoffman’s biography follows Payá’s trajectory from the defiant Catholic teenager the regime punished by sending him to an island to do hard labor, to the soft-spoken hospital technician who refused exile and decided to doggedly take on Cuba’s dictatorship using its own bylaws.

“To me, it’s an endless fascination how one person can tackle a big totalitarian system that way,” said Hoffman, who has written books on the Soviet Union. “What does it take?”

Hoffman also examines the uneasy relationship between Payá and Miami’s Cuban exile community — which initially distrusted Payá’s effort to confront the Cuban regime through legal means rather than exile-led insurrection.

“Oswaldo’s lesson is that Cubans have to change Cuba themselves,” Hoffman said.

“This is not going to be something to come from the United States; it’s not going to come from elsewhere. It has to come from within.”

Hoffman said in that regard, Payá can be compared with such Cold War European dissidents as Russia’s Andrei Sakharov (in 2002 Payá won the human rights award named for Sakharov), the former Czechoslovakia’s Václav Havel and Poland’s Lech Walesa.

Hoffman presented his book alongside Payá’s daughter, Rosa María Payá, herself a Cuban human rights activist who now lives in Miami.

https://www.wlrn.org/news/2022-06-23/paya-biography-recounts-how-the-varela-project-laid-the-groundwork-for-todays-cuban-dissident-push


Miami Herald, June 23, 2022

Bigger than Mariel: 140,000 Cubans have arrived at U.S. borders since October

By Nora Gámez Torres Updated June 23, 2022

The number of Cubans fleeing poverty and oppression on the island surpassed the Mariel exodus of 1980, as U.S. government data reveal that more than 140,000 Cubans were detained at U.S. borders between October last year and May.

The staggering figure surpasses the 125,000 Cubans who departed from the Port of Mariel near Havana between April and October 1980, fleeing the deteriorating economic conditions and the lack of freedoms under Fidel Castro, who came to power in 1959.

Just in the past two years, which coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and a severe economic crisis on the island, the number of Cubans who left the country has jumped from 14,015 in fiscal year 2020 to 140,602 from last October through May this year, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

[ Full article ]

https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article262771743.html