CubaBrief: “Cuban Regime Cracks Down On Protesters Demanding Freedom” MSNBC | “Cuba repression tactics must not be repeated” Amnesty | “How to help victims of Hurricane Ian in Cuba” PBS News |

Three distinct, but related news items are highlighted in this CubaBrief, and they are related to Hurricane Ian, the humanitarian crisis, and the unfolding protests in Cuba.

On October 4, 2022 in the MSNBC segment “Cuban Regime Cracks Down On Protesters Demanding Freedom” Jose Diaz-Balart interviewed University of Pennsylvania professor Amalia Daché. She discussed how the protests in the island had spread from poor communities to wealthier areas that had electricity. ​”Now you have Cubans across class lines aligning with the protests and aligning with change in Cuba.” University of Pennsylvania professor Amalia Daché says the demonstrations calling for freedom across Cuba are a movement, not just a moment.”

Over Twitter she posted photos of a AfroCuban woman who was beaten down by a government agent. “These are the images of an AfroCuban woman who was beaten by a member of a fast response brigade mobs. Black women have been abused by this regime evidenced by the plight of Berta Soler and the Damas de Blanco. Many mothers face this violence,” said Professor Amalia Daché. Anything that would harm the Cuban government’s “prestige” is a criminal offense, and it has been applied over the years against black activists who have spoken out against racism in Cuba, and continues to the present day. Not having been able to have honest conversations about racism in Cuba has led it to fester over the past 63 years.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International in their news item titled “Cuba repression tactics must not be repeated” and added “the international community must condemn the cycles of repression we are seeing in Cuba in the strongest possible terms. It is unacceptable for authorities to keep intimidating, threatening, detaining, stigmatizing, and attempting to silence anyone who demands necessities like electricity, food, and freedom.” The human rights organization also addressed videos that have emerged out of the protests.

“Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab has also analysed several videos that did not appear online before these protests. One video which Amnesty International analysed was filmed on Street 41, at the corner of 66 in Havana, Cuba, and appears to show the deployment of plain-clothed military cadets, armed with baseball bats, chanting pro-government slogans, including “I am Fidel.” Another video, which also first appeared online in the context of the protests, and which is consistent with other videos Amnesty International has verified from the protests, appears to also show cadets with baseball bats chasing and then detaining protesters.”

Amnesty referenced “Justicia J11, a group established following the crackdown on protesters in July 2021″ with regards to how many Cubans had been taken by the secret police. Justicia J11 ” reported 26 detentions since 30 September, mostly of young people and artists, 19 of whom they reported remained in detention as of 4 October 2022.”

Gabriel Pietrorazio of PBS NewsHour on October 4, 2022 posted an entry of “How to help victims of Hurricane Ian in Cuba” that offered two good means to get humanitarian assistance to Cubans: Catholic Relief Services working with Caritas Cuba,and World Help are independent and transparent organizations with a proven track record.

The third group referenced by Mr. Pietrorazio, “The People’s Forum” is funded through Goldman Sachs and linked to the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). Both its executive directors Manolo De Los Santos and Claudia De La Cruz are PSL members, and active supporters of the Cuban communist dictatorship. “The People’s Forum” put out an advertisement in The New York Times that repeated numerous propaganda claims by the Cuban dictatorship, and was rebutted by the Center for a Free Cuba.
Sebastian Arcos, of Florida International University was also quoted in the PBS NewsHour piece where he explained the challenges to being able to get humanitarian aid directly to Cubans.

“Cuba today is still a totalitarian society where the state is the sole provider of emergency or humanitarian assistance,” said Sebastián Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. “Even when assistance is offered by foreign governments, entities or Cuban exiles, the Cuban government prefers to collect and distribute any such help.” The Wall Street Journal reported that Cuba’s government has asked for assistance from the U.S. in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Arcos said the distribution of disaster aid is considered to be “a highly political issue” by the Cuban government and “a threat to its absolute control of society.” “The only exception to this rule is the Cuban Catholic Church,” Arcos added, “which has been able to channel humanitarian assistance in a limited manner.”

Amnesty International, October 5, 2022

Cuba: Tactics of repression must not be repeated

© YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

Following a new wave of island-wide protests in Cuba over the past several days, there are worrying indicators that the authorities are repeating the repressive tactics they used for decades and also during the crackdown on protesters on 11 July last year, said Amnesty International today.

“In the latest wave of protests that have lasted several days, Cubans are exercising their simple but historically repressed rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Alarmingly, it seems the authorities are repeating the tactics of repression they used last year to detain and silence protesters, hundreds of whom remain in prison,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

“The international community must condemn the cycles of repression we are seeing in Cuba in the strongest possible terms. It is unacceptable for authorities to keep intimidating, threatening, detaining, stigmatizing, and attempting to silence anyone who demands necessities like electricity, food, and freedom.”

Since the start of protests in late September, Amnesty International has received reports of on-going internet interference, deployment of police and military, including cadets, to repress the protests, and arbitrary detentions.

Starting on the evening of 29 September, the Cuban authorities appear to have intentionally shut down internet access throughout the country. The internet outage lasted for at least two consecutive nights.

Cuban authorities control the country’s only telecommunication network and have often restricted internet access during politically sensitive times or moments of protests.

Amnesty International has heard that the latest internet outages have made it hard for families to communicate following the passage of hurricane Ian, at a time when many people have had their homes damaged. They have also impacted the ability of independent human rights observers, including Amnesty International, and independent journalists to document the human rights situation in the country. Journalist Luz Escobar told Amnesty International that her internet was cut three nights in a row, impacting her ability to work, and that as of 4 October, several other journalists working at her independent online newspaper, 14 y medio, were without internet.

Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab has also analysed several videos that did not appear online before these protests. One video which Amnesty International analysed was filmed on Street 41, at the corner of 66 in Havana, Cuba, and appears to show the deployment of plain-clothed military cadets, armed with baseball bats, chanting pro-government slogans, including “I am Fidel.”

Another video, which also first appeared online in the context of the protests, and which is consistent with other videos Amnesty International has verified from the protests, appears to also show cadets with baseball bats chasing and then detaining protesters.

The Cuban authorities have developed a sophisticated machinery for controlling any form of dissent and protest, as previously documented by Amnesty International. While state security officials often carry out surveillance and arbitrary detentions of critics, the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution (local members of the Communist Party who collaborate with state officials and law enforcement agencies) also provide the state with information about, what is considered,  “counter-revolutionary activity.” “Acts of repudiation” – demonstrations led by government supporters with the alleged participation of state security officials – are also commonplace and aimed at harassing and intimidating government critics.

While communication with Cuba remains stunted due to internet interference, Justicia J11, a group established following the crackdown on protesters in July 2021 – has reported 26 detentions since 30 September, mostly of young people and artists, 19 of whom they reported remained in detention as of 4 October 2022.

Cuban authorities criminalized nearly all those who participated in the protests in July 2021, including some children, but flatly denied any human rights violations, and placed the blame for the economic situation almost exclusively on the US economic embargo. Similarly, on 2 October 2022, President Díaz-Canel downplayed the widespread nature of the latest protests and suggested that a minority of “counter-revolutionaries” with connections outside Cuba, had carried out “acts of vandalism such as blocking roads or throwing rocks” and would be dealt with with the “force of the law.”

Background

Following the passage of hurricane Ian, the electricity has been cut in multiple parts of the island, adding to the frequent electricity outages in recent months. NASA night-time light data showed a significant decrease in lights between 23 September, before the passing of Ian, and after, on 30 September.

Electricity outages have exacerbated violations of economic and social rights in the country, as in recent months Cubans have had to line up for many hours to buy food and other necessities, in the context of widespread food shortages.

The recent protests have occurred just 14 months after the similar widespread protests on 11 July 2021, which were followed by a crackdown on dissent. Hundreds remain imprisoned for the 11 July protests, including three prisoners of conscience: artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Pérez, as well as leader of the non-official opposition, José Daniel Ferrer García. Other prisoners of conscience named by Amnesty International at the time were released on the condition of going into exile.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/10/cuba-repression-must-not-be-repeated/

MSNBC, October 4, 2022

Cuban Regime Cracks Down On Protesters Demanding Freedom

“Now you have Cubans across class lines aligning with the protests and aligning with change in Cuba.” University of Pennsylvania professor Amalia Daché says the demonstrations calling for freedom across Cuba are a movement, not just a moment.

FILE PHOTO: A vintage car passes by debris caused by Hurricane Ian as it passed in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, September 27, 2022. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo

In the week since Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba, leveling buildings and knocking out the island’s electrical grid, protests have erupted in the streets over lingering power outages, resulting in food spoilage and further civil unrest.

Ricardo Torres Pérez, a Cuban-born economist and faculty fellow at American University, said the Category 3 hurricane that tore through the island’s western region has been a crushing blow to an already struggling economy.

“This is a tragedy for thousands of Cubans. There’s no way to underestimate this,” Torres Pérez said. “It’s not catastrophic because it’s not the entire country, but it’s a severe impact on the very weak economy.”

Tobacco production, in particular, has come to a grinding halt in the Pinar del Río province, according to Torres Pérez.

“It’s an industry that was already having troubles,” he said. “All of the infrastructure associated with the industry is gone, so they have to start from scratch. That’s a major impact and will be felt this and next year in terms of those revenues.”

Michael Doering, the Latin America liaison at World Help, went to Cuba to meet with the Christian humanitarian organization’s network of congregations and house churches, numbering in the thousands islandwide.

“The stories that I was hearing were just disastrous,” Doering said. “Basically entire villages that were destroyed, and none of the crops survived. There’s really no other way to describe it.”

Delivering disaster relief to the largest island in the Caribbean can be difficult in the face of sanctions, embargos and political tensions between the U.S. and Cuba.

Manolo De Los Santos, co-executive director of the New York City-based People’s Forum, spent six years at Global Ministries’ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center in Havana. He stayed connected with the Cuban religious institution after returning stateside, and a partnership between the center and the People’s Forum has grown to include thousands of grassroots organizers across the island. Despite these connections, they still face limitations in getting and delivering aid to the largest island in the Caribbean.

“The center is definitely taking donations, but they have a major challenge, which is the bank they use, for example, in Cuba is sanctioned by the U.S. government,” said De Los Santos. “We’re scratching our heads trying to figure out how to get resources directly to them.”

Members of the United Nations General Assembly have continued their calls for the U.S. to end its economic blockade on Cuba through consecutive resolutions for nearly three decades, since 1992.

Earlier this year, the State Department lifted caps on donative remittances, allowing anyone from the U.S., regardless of Cuban origin, to send an unrestricted amount of money to individuals on the island. The Biden administration made the announcement in May, and the policy went into effect at the beginning of June.

Torres Pérez said the move can alleviate financial burdens incurred amid humanitarian crises, including Ian.

“It happened in a timely fashion,” he said. “People have their right to help their relatives, by all means. They will have new channels to legally transfer funds to their close friends in Cuba.”

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control authorizes the necessary licenses to send disaster relief to Cubans. Although an embargo is still in effect, there are exemptions allowing for certain forms of humanitarian aid to the island, including food and medicine.

“The aid that we have been sending has to be channeled officially. It requires getting permission to import the containers,” Doering said.

Even when aid does arrive at the island, distribution can also be a challenge.

“Cuba today is still a totalitarian society where the state is the sole provider of emergency or humanitarian assistance,” said Sebastián Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. “Even when assistance is offered by foreign governments, entities or Cuban exiles, the Cuban government prefers to collect and distribute any such help.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that Cuba’s government has asked for assistance from the U.S. in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Arcos said the distribution of disaster aid is considered to be “a highly political issue” by the Cuban government and “a threat to its absolute control of society.”

“The only exception to this rule is the Cuban Catholic Church,” Arcos added, “which has been able to channel humanitarian assistance in a limited manner.”

Catholicism plays a prominent role in Cuba. The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba once estimated baptizing 60 percent of the island’s 11 million residents.

Over the course of two decades, Catholic Relief Services has cultivated relationships with the Cuban Catholic Church and its humanitarian arm, Caritas Cuba, said Haydee Díaz, who oversees aid responses in the Caribbean for Catholic Relief Services.

The international humanitarian faith-based organization is shipping non perishable food items, like rice, beans, oil, pasta, sardines, salt and sugar, as well as hygiene items, like soaps, detergents and diapers, to Cuba.

“We’re essentially trying to make sure that we can support the Cuban Catholic Church by getting these very basic supplies to help people deal with the first few days after the disaster,” Díaz said.

Here are some ways to help

Catholic Relief Services is working with Caritas Cuba to distribute non-perishable food, water and hygiene items to Cubans in need. Online donations support these efforts, as well as fund long-term shelter repairs to strengthen the island’s fragile housing infrastructure.

World Help is raising funds to ship food, clean water and clothing to Cuba in the coming days and weeks.

The People’s Forum is seeking donations to fund the purchase of roofing materials in Mexico, which can be shipped directly to their Cuban partners on the ground.

How to avoid charity scams

  • Determine whether the organization, nonprofit or group has a proven track record of delivering aid to those in need.

  • Identify local initiatives and efforts that are based within the areas most affected by the natural disaster.

  • Beware of phone calls and emails soliciting donations.

  • Avoid unfamiliar agencies and websites. There is a history of scammers creating websites that look like donation pages after a major tragedy, but in reality were scams.

Related

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/world/how-to-help-victims-of-hurricane-ian-in-cuba