CubaBrief: HRW, Amnesty Int’l, IACHR, European Council, and State Department on 11J.

Protester manhandled by plainclothes regime agent.

The Cuban dictatorship “committed systematic human rights violations in response to massive anti-government protests in July 2021 with the apparent goal of punishing protesters and deterring future demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said in a report” released on July 11, 2022, the protest anniversary.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights identified six waves of State repression during and after the 11J protests in Cuba: “1) use of force and intimidation and stigmatization campaigns; 2) arbitrary arrests, violations of due process, and ill-treatment; 3) criminalization of demonstrators; 4) shutdowns of democratic platforms; 5) continued deprivation of liberty, trials without due process, and harsh sentences; 6) bills aimed at monitoring and punishing dissident views and government criticism, as well as at criminalizing the actions of independent civil society organizations.”

Amnesty International found that “these tactics to silence criticism of the government are not new, but rather reflect decades of repressive policies implemented by Cuban authorities. In addition to arbitrary detentions, other tactics include the interruption of internet service, violations of due process, ill-treatment, and unfair trials held behind closed doors.”

On July 19, 2021 the Cuba based Christian Liberation Movement, called for the isolation of the Castro dictatorship with the following eleven measures conditioned on two fundamental demands: unconditional release of all political prisoners and free multiparty elections..

We propose that until the dictatorship unconditionally releases all those arrested for the peaceful demonstrations and all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, and holds free and plural elections:

– The Cuban regime should be excluded from participating in any international forum, Summit and event.

– Cuba should be investigated and condemned for its human rights violations by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

– All economic and military cooperation agreements with the Cuban dictatorship, like the EU-Cuba cooperation agreement, should be suspended.

– Lines of credit should not be granted to the Cuban regime.

– Foreign investments and tourism to Cuba should be discouraged.

– All products exported from Cuba, either directly by the regime or through foreign companies associated with Cuban tyranny, should be boycotted.

– An international arms and repression equipment embargo on Cuba should be imposed

– Cuba should be banned from all international sporting, cultural and academic events.

– Visas to military junta officials and relatives, and to members of the Cuba’s Communist Party and all organizations and institutions who take part in repressive actions or support the repression, should not be granted or should be revoked.

– Channels to send humanitarian aid should be facilitated as part of this campaign to isolate the regime and in solidarity with the Cuban people.

– An international commission to support democracy in Cuba should be created. It should promote that these and other measures are executed, and should watch over its implementation.

The response of the international community has been disappointing. “The brave protesters who took to the streets last year in Cuba have every reason to feel they have been abandoned by a large part of the international community,” said Juan Pappier, senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch. The proposal listed above by the Christian Liberation Movement, that gathered 35,000 signatures in Cuba for the Varela Project, was not taken up by democratic governments.

The High Representative on behalf of the European Union on the first anniversary of the 11J in Cuba issued a declaration that stated: “The European Union recalls the importance of ongoing exchanges on these issues with the Cuban authorities, and stands ready to support all efforts aimed at protecting, promoting and implementing the human rights and freedoms of all Cubans and at improving their living conditions, in the framework of the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement.”

This approach continues to confuse engaging the dictatorship with engaging the Cuban people. It appears that the Biden Administration is on the path to making the same policy mistake.

The Biden Administration repeatedly placed Visa restrictions on government officials without identifying most of them, but also for the first time in 62 years approved the first equity investment since 1960 in a “private” Cuban company.

On Sunday, May 15, 2022 the Cuban dictatorship ratified its new penal code that further restricted fundamental human rights in Cuba, and on the next day the United States announced a loosening of sanctions in a series of unilateral concessions with Havana. The timing of these measures sent the wrong signal to the Castro regime.

Human Rights Watch, July 11, 2022

Cuba: Crackdown on Protests Creates Rights Crisis

Hundreds Still Held; Thousands Forced to Flee

Emilio Roman, father of two young men and a daughter who were imprisoned and accused of participating in the July protests against the government, shows a picture of his children at their home in La Güinera neighborhood of Havana, March 29, 2022. © 2022 Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images

(New York, July 11, 2022) – The Cuban government committed systematic human rights violations in response to massive anti-government protests in July 2021 with the apparent goal of punishing protesters and deterring future demonstrations, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today, the anniversary of the protests.

The 36-page report, “Prison or Exile: Cuba’s Systematic Repression of July 2021 Demonstrators,” documents a wide range of human rights violations committed in the context of the protests, including arbitrary detention, abuse-ridden prosecutions, and torture. The government’s repression and its apparent unwillingness to address the underlying problems that drove Cubans to the streets, including limited access to food and medicine, have generated a human rights crisis that dramatically increased the number of people leaving the country.

“A year ago today, thousands of Cubans protested, demanding rights and freedoms, but the government gave many of them only two options: prison or exile,” said Juan Pappier, senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Governments in Latin America and Europe should urgently escalate their human rights scrutiny over Cuba and prioritize a concerted, multilateral response before this human rights crisis becomes even worse.”

On July 11, 2021, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in the largest nationwide demonstrations against the government since the 1959 Cuban revolution. These peaceful protests were a response to longstanding restrictions on rights, food and medicine scarcity, and the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 170 people in Cuba, including abuse victims, their relatives, and lawyers. Human Rights Watch also reviewed case files and verified photographs and videos sent directly to researchers and found on social media platforms. Members of the Independent Forensic Expert Group of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, an international group of prominent forensic experts, provided expert opinion on some evidence of abuses.

Shortly after the protests began, President Miguel Díaz-Canel urged government supporters and security forces to respond to the protests with force. “We call on all revolutionaries to go to the streets to defend the revolution,” he said. “The order to fight has been given.”

One protester, a 36-yeard-old singer named Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, died, seemingly at the hands of the police. The Cuban human rights group Cubalex reports that over 1,400 people were detained, including more than 700 who remain behind bars.

Officers repeatedly detained people who were protesting peacefully, arrested critics as they headed to demonstrations, or prohibited them from leaving their homes for days or weeks.

In most documented cases, detainees were held incommunicado for days, weeks, and sometimes months, without being able to make a phone call or receive visits from their relatives or lawyers. Some were beaten, forced to squat naked, or subjected to ill-treatment, including sleep deprivation and other abuses that in some cases constitute torture.

Cuban courts have confirmed the convictions against more than 380 protesters and bystanders, including several children. Many trials took place before military courts, which contravenes international law. Many were prosecuted for “sedition” and sentenced to disproportionate prison terms of up to 25 years for allegedly participating in violent incidents, such as throwing rocks during the protests.

Prosecutors framed actions such as protesting peacefully or insulting the president or the police, lawful exercises of freedom of expression and association, as criminal behavior. People were convicted on unreliable or uncorroborated evidence, such as statements solely from security officers, or alleged “odor traces” of the defendants found on rocks.

Victims and their relatives said that security forces repeatedly harassed them, in some cases causing them to leave the country.

Orelvys Cabrera Sotolongo, a 36-year-old journalist for the news website Cubanet, was arrested in Cárdenas, Matanzas province, as he left the demonstrations on July 11. Officers interrogated him repeatedly, telling him he would not see his family again. Cabrera was only allowed to make a phone call 10 days after his arrest. He spent part of his detention with eight other detainees in a two-by-one-and-a-half-meter cell, with little to no ventilation, light, or access to water.

He was released on August 19, but officers repeatedly told him he should leave the country. In December, he and his partner fled and have since requested asylum in the United States.

Security agents arrested Elier Padrón Romero, a 26-year-old mason’s assistant, on July 21 in La Güinera, a low-income neighborhood in Havana province. His mother said officers beat him and other detainees saying they would be “disappeared if they continued to think” as they did.

In December, a judge in Havana convicted Padrón Romero of “sedition” because he allegedly incited people to join a July 12 protest and to “push” against a police barricade. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which was reduced to 10 years on appeal.

Cuban authorities have also taken steps to dismantle the limited civic space that allowed these protests to occur. In May 2022, lawmakers passed a new criminal code that includes multiple overly broad offenses that could be used to criminalize peaceful challenging of the government. The new code also provides the death penalty for a range of crimes, including “sedition,” a charge brought against many July 11 demonstrators, and “acts against the independence of the Cuban state.”

The number of Cubans fleeing the country has increased dramatically. US Border Patrol detained over 118,000 Cubans between January and May 2022 – compared with 17,000 in same period in 2021. The US Coast Guard has interdicted over 2,900 Cubans on the sea since October 2021, by far the highest figure in five years. Many Cubans have also fled to other countries.

Latin American governments, the United States, Canada, and the European Union should take steps to ensure a multilateral and coordinated approach toward Cuba that prioritizes human rights. They should unequivocally condemn the repression and bring attention to the situation in relevant United Nations bodies, particularly the Human Rights Council.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who has rarely condemned abuses in Cuba, should publicly condemn these systematic violations before she leaves office in late August.

For decades, the Cuban government has benefited from a dysfunctional response by the international community that has failed to effectively promote progress on human rights in the country, Human Rights Watch said.

The US government’s sweeping economic embargo has isolated the United States rather than Cuba, by enabling the Cuban government to garner sympathy abroad.

Many Latin American governments, recently including Mexico and Argentina, have been reluctant to criticize Cuba and have even praised the Cuban government, despite its dismal human rights record.

“The brave protesters who took to the streets last year in Cuba have every reason to feel they have been abandoned by a large part of the international community,” Pappier said.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/07/11/cuba-crackdown-protests-creates-rights-crisis

Amnesty International, July 11, 2022

Photo by YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

July 11, 2022

Five things you should know a year on from Cuba’s 11 July protests

11 July marks the first anniversary of massive and emblematic protests in Cuba. A year on, here are five things you should know about what has happened since and why we must pay attention.

1. The protests were a desperate cry for change in the country.

On July 11, 2021, thousands of Cubans spontaneously took to the streets in dozens of cities to protest, in numbers not seen in decades. People participated in the protests to demand a change in living conditions in Cuba. The protests responded not only to the shortages of food, personal hygiene items and medicine, the constant blackouts and lack of electricity, but also to the restrictive measures taken by the government to “control” Covid-19 transmission, and to the state’s historic policy of repression, which has violated freedom of expression and peaceful assembly for years.

2. Despite the demonstrations being peaceful, the authorities responded with repression and criminalization, in varying degrees, against almost everyone they encountered protesting.

During the protests, and in the weeks following them, the authorities arbitrarily detained hundreds of people without informing their families of their whereabouts, kept activists and independent journalists under extreme surveillance, and cut off the population’s internet access.

3. Cuban authorities repressed the protests using well-worn tactics of control.

One of the main tactics the authorities employed to repress the protests, and silence people who think differently, was the use of arbitrary detentions. The situation of artist and human rights defender Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of six people named prisoner of conscience last year, is emblematic of how these tactics are employed, as he was detained after announcing that he would join the protests and, almost a year later, was sentenced to five years in prison just for exercising his right to freedom of expression.

These tactics to silence criticism of the government are not new, but rather reflect decades of repressive policies implemented by Cuban authorities. In addition to arbitrary detentions, other tactics include the interruption of internet service, violations of due process, ill-treatment, and unfair trials held behind closed doors. The Cuban authorities also resort to constant intimidation and surveillance using security agents for these purposes, as we documented in November 2021, in the context of the November 27 protests. Their attempts to silence diverse voices go so far as to exchange freedom for exile, as happened to Esteban Rodriguez and Hamlet Lavastida, who Amnesty International also named prisoners of conscience.

4. The Cuban government erroneously maintains that its actions are legitimate.

Despite using crimes inconsistent with international law (such as “public disorder”, “contempt”, and “instigation to commit a crime”) to criminalize those who protested, Cuban authorities insist that the manner in which they repressed the protests was appropriate. President Miguel Díaz-Canel himself called on the “defenders of the regime” to violently combat the people who had joined the demonstrations in the streets, because, according to the official version of events, the protests undermined “the constitutional order and the stability” of the socialist state. However, the facts speak for themselves: currently at least 701 people are known to remain deprived of their freedom, just for expressing their dissatisfaction with the situation in the country.

5. The international community continues to denounce the worrying lack of freedom of expression in Cuba.

However, despite vigorous efforts by governments and international organizations, the Cuban government refuses to allow international and independent human rights organizations into the country to document the state of human rights, and especially the situation faced by those arbitrarily detained. 

While conditions inside Cuba have not improved a year on from the protests, stories have come to light that illustrate the courageous resistance of hundreds of activists, journalists, relatives of unjustifiably detained protesters, and people from all walks of life who have united their voices to continue fighting for their rights. Mothers of the victims have created viral videos demanding authorities to act to solve the deep economic crisis facing the country. Relatives have stood firm in the face of arbitrary arrests, threats and fines. Journalists and activists have left their homes to continue fulfilling their role of defending and protecting rights.

This 11 July anniversary reminds us that freedom of expression and the exercise of human rights could be a reality in Cuba. We reiterate our invitation to President Díaz-Canel and his cabinet to change repression for dialogue, and to promote plural and participatory spaces where the Cuban people can make decisions about the future of their country collectively, making the protection of human rights a priority.  

Until that future arrives, Amnesty International will not stop defending those who raise their voices to build it.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/07/five-things-you-should-know-cubas-11-july-protests/

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, July 11, 2022

One Year After Historic Protests, IACHR Condemns Persistent Repression of Demonstrators in Cuba

Washington, D.C. – On the first anniversary of mass protests in Cuba, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns persistent State repression of individuals who took part in social demonstrations or who supported participants. The IACHR urges the State to end all forms of repression and protect the human rights of the people who have been arrested and charged in connection with the protests.

On July 11, 2021, thousands of people poured out onto the streets in at least 40 towns and cities in the country to peacefully demand civil liberties and changes in the country’s political structure, as well as to complain about the lack of access to economic, social, and cultural rights. These protests unleashed an immediate State reaction in which a total of 1,484 people were arrested, 700 of whom reportedly remain deprived of liberty. A total of 624 individuals have reportedly been tried for their involvement in the protests, 586 of whom have been convicted while 34 are awaiting a court decision and four have been found not guilty. The data are based on civil society reports updated in July 2022.

In this context, the IACHR has identified six waves of State repression: 1) use of force and intimidation and stigmatization campaigns; 2) arbitrary arrests, violations of due process, and ill-treatment; 3) criminalization of demonstrators; 4) shutdowns of democratic platforms; 5) continued deprivation of liberty, trials without due process, and harsh sentences; 6) bills aimed at monitoring and punishing dissident views and government criticism, as well as at criminalizing the actions of independent civil society organizations.

Concerning the first wave of repression, the Commission noted the complaints of scores of people injured due to a disproportionate use of force by the police. Similarly, demonstrators reported threats, harassment, and stigmatizing official comments targeting protestors and their supporters. Over the weeks that followed the protests, a second wave of repression involved hundreds of arbitrary arrests and other violations of due process, ill-treatment, and deplorable conditions of detention, as well as the implementation of a heightened surveillance strategy on the streets and specific surveillance of activists’ homes throughout the country.

A third wave of repression involved the criminalization of individuals who had taken part in protests, who were formally charged with various crimes and against whom public prosecutors requested harsh sentences. Months later, the Commission was told of a fourth wave of repression aimed at preventing a civic protest that had been planned for November 15 and at discouraging further social demonstrations. The forms of repression used included the following: alleged house arrests with police surveillance, arbitrary arrests, public denunciations and harassment, summons for interrogation in police facilities, threats of criminal charges, and deliberate Internet cutoffs.

In February 2022, the Commission identified a fifth wave of repression marked by continued deprivation of liberty for more than 700 individuals, including several adolescents, and subsequent trials without due process. To silence these individuals, judicial proceedings against them are allegedly based on open crime categories and on ill-founded and disproportionate criminal charges. Finally, the IACHR detected a sixth wave of repression linked to the design of bills aimed at restricting, monitoring, and punishing dissident views and government criticism. In this context, new regulations were adopted concerning telecommunications and cybersecurity in Cuba, and a new Penal Code was approved on May 15, 2022. These new regulations establish crime categories that could be used to criminalize the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

The Commission stresses that human rights violation patterns observed in Cuba over various waves of repression of dissident voices and citizen complaints emerge as part of a structural problem rooted in the very absence of democratic institutions in the country. The IACHR therefore urges Cuba to immediately end punitive action against individuals who took part in protests and their supporters. The State of Cuba must end all acts of harassment and surveillance, arbitrary arrests, violations of due process, unfair trials, and disproportionate sentences.

The IACHR stresses that the State must take all measures necessary to prevent investigations from leading to unfair or baseless trials against individuals who legitimately stand up for their own rights through social protest. The Commission urges the State to ensure that crime categories held in its legislation are not used inappropriately to restrict other rights and that due process is enforced for the benefit of detainees and individuals who are formally charged with crimes.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 153/22

2:30 PM

https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/jsForm/?File=/en/iachr/media_center/preleases/2022/153.asp

Council of the EU, July 11, 2022

Cuba: Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the first anniversary of the demonstrations of 11 and 12 July 2021

One year has passed since thousands of Cuban citizens took to the streets across the island to express their legitimate grievances about deteriorating living conditions as well as their demands for human rights, in particular civil and political rights, and for democracy. These spontaneous protests were met with repression, with over 1,400 people having been arrested and 790 indicted in connection with these events.

Since then, the European Union has been following with deep concern the disproportionate prison sentences handed down in Cuba to those involved in the events of 11 and 12 July 2021, some of whom were under the age of 18 at the time of their arrest. These trials raise important concerns in relation to basic principles and international standards of transparency and due process.

During the past 12 months, the European Union has reiterated its call on the Cuban government to respect the human rights and freedoms of the Cuban people, including freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and to release all political prisoners and those detained solely on the grounds of exercising their freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and will continue to do so. Moreover, the European Union has consistently encouraged the Cuban government to engage in a meaningful and inclusive dialogue with Cuban people about their legitimate grievances. The European Union reiterates its requests to the Cuban authorities to allow the diplomatic community to attend the trials.

The European Union recalls the importance of ongoing exchanges on these issues with the Cuban authorities, and stands ready to support all efforts aimed at protecting, promoting and implementing the human rights and freedoms of all Cubans and at improving their living conditions, in the framework of the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement.

https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2022/07/11/cuba-declaration-by-the-high-representative-on-behalf-of-the-eu-on-the-first-anniversary-of-the-demonstrations-of-11-and-12-july-2021/

U.S. Department of State, July 11, 2022

The First Anniversary of July 11, 2021 Protests

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

July 11, 2022

One year after the July 11, 2021 protests in Cuba, the United States recognizes the determination and courage of the Cuban people as they continue to fight for respect for human rights and persevere through repression during a historic year. We celebrate the Cuban people and commend their indomitable determination in the face of oppression.

Our two peoples share strong bonds of family and friendship, as well as a fervent desire for freedom, prosperity, and a bright future for our children. Through those bonds and desires, we will continue to stand with the Cuban people to support their struggle for democracy, including by promoting accountability for Cuban regime officials for human rights abuses, condemning restrictions on fundamental freedoms and labor rights, calling for the unconditional release of political prisoners, and urging our partners to do the same.

To the Cuban people: Americans watched with admiration on July 11, 2021 as tens of thousands of you took to the streets to raise your voices for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and a better life. And we stand with you as the Cuban regime, instead of welcoming the voices of the people, has condemned hundreds of protestors to decades-long prison sentences. It is unacceptable that today, one year after these demonstrations, over 700 protesters remain behind bars. The United States will always remain with the Cuban people in your desire to build a better future.

https://www.state.gov/the-first-anniversary-of-july-11-2021-protests/

U.S. Department of State, July 9, 2022

Announcement of Visa Restrictions Against Cuban Officials

Press Statement

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

July 9, 2022

The Department of State has taken steps to impose visa restrictions on 28 Cuban officials pursuant to Presidential Proclamation 5377, which suspends nonimmigrant entry into the United States of officers and employees of the Cuban government and Cuban Communist Party.

These 28 officials include officials who are implicated in the repression of the peaceful July 11, 2021 protests. Those covered include high-ranking members of the Cuban Communist Party responsible for setting national- and provincial-level policies.  Instead of ensuring the safety of the Cuban people and respect for their freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, these officials permitted or facilitated violent and unjust detentions, sham trials, and prison sentences spanning decades for hundreds of protesters.

Also covered are multiple officials who work in the state communications and media sectors who formulate and implement policies that restrict Cubans’ ability to freely access and share information and who engage in the spread of disinformation.  The Cuban government employed Internet throttling on July 11, 2021, to both prevent the Cuban people from communicating with each other and keep the world from witnessing the historic events that day.  Further, state media officials continue to engage in a campaign against jailed July 11, 2021, protesters and their family members who speak publicly about their loved ones’ cases.  This announcement of visa restrictions comes in response to the actions of Cuban government officials that limit Cubans’ enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This action builds upon previous efforts to promote accountability for Cuban officials who enable their government’s assaults on democracy and human rights, including the Department’s three rounds of visa restrictions since November 2021 under Presidential Proclamation 5377, as well as the Treasury Department’s four rounds of financial sanctions designations since July 2021 under Executive Order 13818.  These steps also reinforce the U.S. Government’s commitment to supporting greater freedom and economic opportunities for the Cuban people.

https://www.state.gov/announcement-of-visa-restrictions-against-cuban-officials-2/