CubaBrief: Oscar Biscet in Newsweek on 11J protests. CA Senate wrong to invite Cuban dictator’s diplomat. Protests in DC

Over the past week three anniversaries that impact Cubans were observed.

July 11, 2022 marked the one year anniversary of tens of thousands of Cubans taking part in demonstrations across Cuba demanding freedom, and an end to dictatorship on the island.

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet in Newsweek published an essay titled “The Legacy of Cuba’s 11J” that is a must read in which he sums up the nature of the protests, and the Cuban government’s response.

“The anti-government protests that began on July 11, 2021, or 11J as it is known in Cuba, was the largest act of civil disobedience in Cuba since Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. For most of the protestors, it was the first political act they had ever taken in their lives. The protests were spontaneous and mostly peaceful, but they were met by a well-choreographed and violent response from the Cuban government that included murder, mass arrests, summary trials lacking due process and harsh prison sentences.”

The Center for a Free Cuba’s executive director was quoted in Nora Gamez’s July 11, 2022 article “Protests last July brought Cuba worldwide attention, but the human rights crisis continues” in the Miami Herald where he provided context.

“The July 11 protests cannot be looked at in isolation, but in the context of previous events that contributed to this popular outburst, Suárez said. ‘The San Isidro Movement’s escalating nonviolent protests in November 2020 led to the mass demonstration outside of the Ministry of Culture on November 27, 2020,’ he said. ‘The song ‘Patria y Vida,’ which denounced the dictatorial nature of the Cuban regime and was sung by Cubans across the streets of the island during the July protests, also demonstrates the power and depth of this culture’s yearning for freedom.’”

Cuban Freedom March reach the Lincoln Memorial on July 9, 2022.

The Cuban diaspora in over 30 locations around the world carried out demonstrations to observe the one year anniversary of the 11J protests. On July 9, 2022 the Cuban Freedom Movement organized a march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial while engaging in a teach-in for tourists visiting the historic sites that started at 4pm, and at 7pm held a vigil at the Cuban Embassy.

On Monday, July 11th at 7:00PM a vigil was also held at the Cuban Embassy that was co-organized by the Center for a Free Cuba, Cuba Decide, the Patmos Institute, The Heritage Foundation, and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Vigil opened and ended with a prayer by Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart of the Patmos Institute. Protesters each read the name of a political prisoner and placed a candle on a poster with their name and image. During the gathering the 37 victims of the “13 de marzo” tugboat massacre (7/13/1994) were remembered together with martyrs Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero (7/22/2012) and Diubis Laurencio Tejeda and Christian Barrera Díaz on (7/12/2021).

The second anniversary observed this week took place 28 years ago when Castro regime agents carried out a massacre of 37 Cubans (of which 12 were women, and 11 were children) aboard the “13 de Marzo” tugboat on July 13, 1994 six miles off Cuba’s coast. The individuals responsible have not been held accountable.

Chinese Nobel Laureate and pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo died five years ago on July 13, 2017 in a Chinese communist prison. Further evidence that Western engagement with the Chinese Communist Party has failed to reform it, and should inform the formulation of policy towards Communist Cuba. This is the third important date to observe this week for Cubans and friends of democracy.

Speaking of unprincipled engagement, the California State Senate on May 26th invited a high ranking diplomat of the Cuban dictatorship to address them. On July 8th, the CFC executive director called them to task in an OpEd published in the Orange County Register titled “California senators wrong to applaud representative of communist Cuba.

Newsweek, July 14, 2022


The Legacy of Cuba’s 11J | Opinion

Oscar Biscet , human rights leader
On 7/14/22 at 8:00 AM EDT

Last July 11, a couple dozen people started marching through the streets of San Antonio de los Baños, a town 35 kilometers from my home in Havana.

The protests quickly spread. Neighborhood by neighborhood, dozens soon became hundreds then swelled to thousands, as people cried, “We are not afraid!” Libertad!” and “Down with the dictatorship!” By the end of the week, many thousands of Cubans had marched in dozens of cities and towns across the island.

The anti-government protests that began on July 11, 2021, or 11J as it is known in Cuba, was the largest act of civil disobedience in Cuba since Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. For most of the protestors, it was the first political act they had ever taken in their lives.

The protests were spontaneous and mostly peaceful, but they were met by a well-choreographed and violent response from the Cuban government that included murder, mass arrests, summary trials lacking due process and harsh prison sentences.

11J exposed many ugly realities about Cuba, including the repressive nature of the communist regime and the violence and fear with which it rules over the public. It also exposed the deepening demographic crisis that represents the greatest threat to Cuba’s future.

The most basic measure of a country’s health is whether people clamor to enter it or risk life and limb to flee from it. By that measure, Cuba has been an abject failure since the beginning of the Castro regime.

Throughout its history, Cuba has periodically experienced mass exoduses, starting in 1959, right after the revolution and Castro take over. In the following decades, more than 1 million Cubans would make their way to the U.S., and thousands died trying.

The pace of departure spiked soon after the crackdown following last summer’s protests. Last fall, the U.S Coast Guard reported a surge in Cubans trying to make the treacherous 90-mile journey over the Straits of Florida to the United States. Then in November, Nicaragua lifted visa requirements for Cuban travelers, prompting a flood of departures. According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data, some 115,000 Cubans (more than 1 percent of Cuba’s entire population) have been apprehended at the U.S. border since late 2021. One expert has called it “undoubtedly the largest exodus from Cuba in the last four decades.”

The desperation to leave is palpable. Cubans are selling everything they own to pay for a ticket to Managua and a guide to take them on the long, perilous land journey to the U.S. border.

It is traumatic to see so many of my fellow citizens leaving, but I cannot blame them for wanting a better life. The economy is in shambles; our political rights are non-existent. For many, the government’s response to 11J was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

As one Cuban woman told a reporter, “I was done after July 11. I am leaving for my son, for his future. I spent all day waiting in lines so he can have yogurt. I work at a [government] hospital for $50 a month. I basically work for free.”

The crackdown was one of the most punitive since the early days of the revolution. Nearly 1,400 people were arrested and jailed. Many were convicted of crimes ranging from public disorder to sedition and handed prison terms of up to 30 years. As of June, the government was still holding some 700 11J political prisoners, according to Human Rights Watch. The only thing most of them had done was march and shout, “Libertad!”

In some cases, entire families were arrested. Consider the Beirut family. On July 11, Exeint Beirut, his son and daughter and brother-in-law, Yobel, were arrested for participating in protests in the eastern city of Guantanamo. The next day, Exeint’s sister Katia and father, Fredy, took to the streets in Havana with hundreds of others to protest his unjust arrest. Fredy was arrested the following day and Katia about a week later for filming the events using her smartphone. Exeint was given a four-year sentence for public disorder while Yobel received three years and six months for the same offense. Meanwhile, Fredy and Katia have both been given 20-year prison sentences.

Minors have been subject to some of the harshest treatment. Dozens of young people in one of Cuba’s poorest neighborhoods were rounded up and sentenced to long prison terms. Sixteen-year-old Rowland Jesús Castillo Castro was given 18 years for protesting. When his sentence was announced in May, his father, Rolando Castillo, protested and was given a two-year prison sentence for his trouble.

Some of the arrested have since been released, but the government’s crackdown had its desired effect—to break the will of the protestors. As another said about their son, who spent months in jail before being released, “My son has been quiet, he is another boy, they transformed him.”

This exodus is contributing to one of the worst demographic crises in the world. According to the United Nations, Cuba’s population is projected to decline by half, from 11.3 million today to 6.7 million by 2100. That’s in part because many Cubans are leaving. But it’s also because many of those who remain have lost hope in a better tomorrow.

According to the World Bank, Cuba has the third lowest fertility rate among Latin America’s 42 countries. Between 2000 and 2018, the number of annual births in Cuba declined by nearly 20 percent. Meanwhile, the median age in Cuba has nearly doubled, from 22 in 1950 to 42 in 2020; it is projected to rise to 50 by 2050. For comparison, in 2020 the median age in the U.S. was 38 years.

Cuba’s abortion rate is one of the highest in the world, and its divorce rate is now about 50 percent, the ninth highest in the world according to one study. When you don’t have hope that the next generation can live happy, fulfilling and purposeful lives, why reproduce or form lasting partnerships?

I am hopeful that Cuba will someday cast off the chains of communist slavery.

What worries me now is whether there will be enough of us around when the crucial work of rebuilding our country begins.

Dr. Oscar Biscet is a human rights leader, former prisoner of conscience, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He lives in Havana, Cuba, and can be contacted through his website.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

Miami Herald, July 11, 2022

Protests last July brought Cuba worldwide attention, but the human rights crisis continues

By Nora Gámez Torres July 11, 2022 6:00 AM

A year after the largest anti-government demonstrations in Cuba in several decades, hundreds of people remain detained, waiting for trials or in prison for chanting pro-freedom slogans.

But the July 11 protests — and the ferocious crackdown that followed — have shed light on the Cuban people’s struggle for liberty, called international attention to the human rights crisis on the island and mobilized Cubans around the world in support of pro-democracy efforts.

The “nationwide protests marked a before and after in Cuban history, demonstrating to the international community that Cubans across the island want freedom, an end to the dictatorship, and were willing to risk life and limb to obtain it,” said John Suarez, the executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, a human rights organization based in Washington.

“At the same time, Havana showed it was willing to use violence, including deadly force, to silence all these citizens who called for change,” he added.

[ Full article ]

The Orange County Register, July 8, 2022

California senators wrong to applaud representative of communist Cuba

By John Suarez

PUBLISHED: July 8, 2022 at 6:00 a.m.

President Biden was vindicated, as The Washington Post editorial board pointed out on June 27, 2022, for his “refusal to permit Cuba’s attendance at the recent Summit of the Americas.”

“With the world distracted, Cuba cracks down on dissident artists,” the editorial board wrote.

Normalizing authoritarians does not improve their behavior but makes them more aggressive and compromises democratic norms.

During the Summit of the Americas, California state senators undermined the president’s correct stand when they welcomed Alejandro Garcia del Toro, deputy chief of mission to the Embassy of Cuba in the United States, to address the California Senate on May 26.

They were wrong to do so.

On July 11, 2021 when tens of thousands took to the streets in Cuba and nonviolently called for freedom and an end to dictatorship, President Miguel Diaz Canel went on national television and said “the order of combat is given; revolutionaries, take to the streets.”

Government agents responded, beating up, and firing on unarmed protesters, organizing mobs, giving them clubs and busing them in to also beat up protesters. Cuban protesters were hurt, shot and some were killed. This has been followed by 11 months of political show trials, and long prison sentences for hundreds of demonstrators and those bystanders who recorded video of the protests and caught regime agents carrying out violence against unarmed Cubans.

On July 12, 2021, human rights defenders Felix Navarro, 68, and Sayli Navarro  Álvarez, 35, father and daughter, inquired about the protesters’ condition. They were also jailed and sentenced to nine and eight years in prison, respectively.

To ignore this and invite a representative to address the California State Senate legitimized this criminal behavior, and invited more of the same.

On June 24, the Cuban government delivered stiff prison sentences of nine and five years respectively to Cuban rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo and Cuban performance artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.

The first Summit of the Americas, held in Miami in December 1994, was “based on shared democratic values and the promise of increased trade and commerce to improve the quality of life for all peoples and preserve the hemisphere’s natural resources for future generations,” recalls the U.S. State Department.

The summit is supposed to be a gathering of democratically elected heads of state throughout the Americas.

Havana was not invited to the first six Summits of the Americas.

The first time Castro was invited was in 2015 in Panama, and again in 2018 in Peru, and it did not go well.

Havana did not respect democratic norms at the Summit of the Americas in 2015 and 2018. Pro-regime mobs were flown in, led by formal officials like Abel Prieto, a former minister of culture, to violently shut down discussions in civil society meetings.

They did not want dissidents to be heard. People were hurt in Panama after being assaulted by Cuban diplomats.

The Cuban dictatorship’s authoritarian nature is not only an internal feature of the system, but one exported to Venezuela and Nicaragua, creating crises with negative impacts across the region.

Havana is currently carrying out a disinformation campaign for Russia throughout Latin America defending the invasion of Ukraine.

The California Senate giving an audience to a representative of the Cuban dictatorship without inviting Cuban democrats or questioning Cuba’s human rights record, and concluding with a standing ovation for the dictatorship’s representative, is shameful.

Normalizing the Castro regime also sends a signal that there is no accountability, endangering the lives of Cuban dissidents.

The California Senate should call on the Cuban government to free Felix, Sayli, Maykel and Luis Manuel, invite Cuban pro-democracy activists to address the California Senate, and observe the upcoming anniversary of the murder of Cuban dissident leaders Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero by Cuba’s secret police 10 years ago on July 22, 2012.

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

Spectrum News, July 8, 2022

One year later, Cuban freedom protests set to kick off again

By Saundra Weathers Tampa

PUBLISHED 3:17 PM ET Jul. 08, 2022

It’s been nearly a year since the Cuba freedom protests took over the streets in cities all over the country, and now thousands are preparing to hit them once again to rally for the people of Cuba.

Those protests were the driving force behind Alian Collazo creating his nonprofit organization, Cuban Freedom March.

“What we’ve always advocated for from Cuban Freedom March is first, visibility and providing proper tools that can get the demands of the Cuban people out to the rest of the world,” he said. “This movement started last year, but the end for the regime has to come because we cannot have another 63 years of this type of suffering for an entire nation of people.”

Protests last year shut down Bay Area streets, as people held up Cuban flags and chanted messages of freedom. In Cuba, there were unprecedented protests on the streets, and since then, the momentum has died down, but Collazo said it’s far from over.

“I think that, you know, when things are on the news, everybody’s out, everybody’s active,” he said. “But when they spring off of the news, sometimes people forget.”

Spectrum News first met with Collazo in 2021, days before his first trip to Washington D.C., during which he worked to compel lawmakers to act. This year, he plans to do the same.

“What we’ve seen with Cuba is that there hasn’t been the follow up from neither republicans nor democrats on Capitol hill,” he said. “And we want to remind them about discussions that we had last year.”

Those discussions will detail the lack of access to basic needs like food, the extreme poverty and the inability to communicate beyond the island because of the spotty government-controlled internet.

“I have to compel them to care about the Cuba issue, and if I get one more person to care about the Cuba issue, then we’ve done our homework, we’ve done something more,” Collazo said.

It’s an argument that Collazo — who, as an 8-year-old boy, came to the U.S. on a boat with his mother — is prepared to make for his people. It’s also one he’s hoping others will join in on when they march in Washington on Saturday, beginning at 4 p.m.

Collazo said the Washington D.C. march will begin at the Washington Monument and participants will then travel to the Lincoln Memorial. A vigil will follow the march that will take place at the Cuban Embassy from 7-8 p.m.

While the actual date is July 11, Cubans in Tampa Bay plan to mark the anniversary of the 2021 protests on Sunday at the corner of North Dale Mabry and West Columbus Drive starting at 3 p.m. La Casa Cuba de Tampa is hosting the event.

Organizers of the Sunday rally said they planned the rally for that day to accommodate those who work on Mondays.–one-year-later